East Falls Glassworks’ Nikolaj Christensen describes the ‘active art’ of glassblowing

For Nikolaj Christensen, manager of East Falls Glassworks, glassblowing wasn’t always part of his career path. While finishing his senior year at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., a friend suggested they take a glassblowing class. Once he started, he was hooked.

After graduating with a degree in architecture, Christensen set out to study the art of glassblowing. Traveling to Denmark on a grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation, Christensen was able to hone his skills. He said he studied with glassblowers all over the country.

Glassblowing has a unique way of pulling people into the trade, said Christensen, whose store is located at 3510 Scotts Lane in East Falls.

“There’s nothing else quite like it. You have to be fully engaged, you can never put it down and let it cool off. You can never walk away from it. You just have to be 100 percent engaged,” he said.

Blowing glass is an active art, Christensen said, it’s very physical. They’re always moving around with hot glass, rushing to shape it before it cools. He compares glassblowing to a carpenter making different types of furniture. It doesn’t matter if they make cabinets, chairs or desks. The most important part is working with your hands, he said. He adds that, for some, glassblowing can be addicting, people keep coming back for more. The shop not only offers an array of classes to the community, but artists can also rent studio time. They see about 20 newcomers a week, with a lot of interest from the public.

“It can be anything from a very short one-day class, something you might do as a private lesson with a loved one, to long-term classes where you can come in and get a little bit more of a grasp on the fundamentals of glass blowing,” Christensen said.

Blowing glass isn’t easy, especially while working with larger projects, he said. The weight at the end of the metal rod can be a lot to control. It’s important not to be deceived in thinking small objects are easy to make. Sometimes the smaller a piece is, the harder it is to get right.

“Pretty much anything is challenging when you’re working with 2,000-degree molted glass. As long as your pushing yourself, glass blowing will never cease to be interesting and captivating,” he said.

At any time, Christensen is working on multiple projects. He works on anything from restorations to custom projects. Recently he restored a several-hundred-year-old chandelier and is currently working on glass for an upcoming Hollywood film.

Jon Ristaino is a student at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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