Details: Hot Sand in Asbury Park, N.J.
Blowing air into a long metal rod, my breath expanding the ball of molten glass attached to the tip, I wondered whether my mother would still find joy in her child’s creations. Although a parent’s love is limitless, kitchen shelf space is finite.
The tight economy, Martha Stewart and the proliferation of craftsy blogs have conspired to change the gift-giving landscape. Do-it-yourself presents are no longer the domain of children and infantile adults on small allowances. Friends and family swap home-knit scarves, self-beaded jewelry and personally preserved jams and vinegars; strangers exchange gift cards.
“It feels more in touch with the person you’re giving it to,” said Thomas Stevens, who founded and runs the glass-blowing establishment with an artist friend. “It’s more real.”
To experiment with this trend — and to start filling up my Santa sack — I signed up for a 60-minute class at the hybrid gallery, working studio and theatrical show.
Hot Sand opened on the boardwalk in 2006, offering visitors quick sand-and-glass casts of handprints, shells and the random detritus you find in toy chests. The tightly packed facility, which plans to move downtown by the end of the year, has since expanded its repertoire to include more elaborate forms of glass-blown art, such as bubbles (basically decorative balls), drinking vessels, vases and ornaments. Guests can watch demonstrations or try their hands at the art. During the casual walk-ups, visitors grab a seat on one of three wooden benches and assist the expert in small doses, such as providing a burst of air. The workshops allow greater interaction and involvement in the process, but with a safety net. My net was named Matthew Donofrio.
Matt and I started with what should have been the easiest step — deciding on the two items I would make — but it turned into a ponderous task.
I initially chose a snowman, fat and happy with a round glass belly and coal-black eyes. But Matt kindly informed me that I was too much of a novice for the advanced techniques that Frosty required. He steered me toward the paperweights, but my family’s homestead does not possess indoor winds that disperse loose papers. I had to nix the fused tiles as well, even though I could have added candied-fruit-colored accents. My folks have reached the perfect coaster-to-drinking-glass ratio; I don’t want to upend this delicate balance.
I finally settled on an apple-shaped ornament and a bulbous vase with a small hole for a single daisy. With the objets d’art selected, I raced ahead to the next big decision: choosing the design (twist, spiral, mold, etc.) and the colors. I chose pink and mandarin orange for the vase, and blue and aquamarine for the apple. Avant-gardists like myself prefer to color outside the lines of nature.