In 1291, the glass blowers of Venice -- a select lot who knew the secret to shaping molten, finely ground sand into fabulous creations -- were rounded up and moved to the tiny island of Murano, a couple of miles to the north. The reason given was that their fiery furnaces created a serious hazard for a city made almost entirely of wood. But the real reason the glassmakers were sentenced to island seclusion was to make sure they didn't spread their sacred secrets throughout Europe. Glassmakers were forbidden to ever leave Murano -- on penalty of death.
Nowadays, the art is a popular and accessible craft. Tucked into nooks and crannies throughout Washington are studios that offer classes in all different kinds of glassmaking. And with the wind chill picking up around the city, there are worse places to find yourself than in a room with a 2,200-degree furnace. Where to learn:
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Art of Fire. 7901 Hawkins Creamery Rd., Laytonsville. 301-253-6642. www.artoffire.com. The month-long, four-session classes here are super-personal: Each features no more than four people, two per instructor ($425). No wonder, then, that January is already booked. The next open sessions for beginners start Feb. 2, 5 and 6. Individual instruction ($75 an hour) and furnace time ($55 an hour) are also available.
The Art League. 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-2323. www.theartleague.org. This landmark school has an extensive catalogue of classes, including Glass Beadmaking (next session is Feb. 5-6, $214) and Glass Blowing (March 21-25, $480).
D.C. Glassworks. 5346 46th Ave., Hyattsville. 301-927-8271. www.dcglassworks.com. Among this studio's offerings are a six-session beginners class starting Jan. 11 ($375) and a weekend beginners class Jan. 22 and 23 ($325). If you want to check out the place before committing all that cash, visit its block-party-like open house Jan. 8. You'll be able to watch the masters at work while listening to live music.
Washington Glass School. 1338 Half St. SE. 202-744-8222. www.washingtonglassschool.com. Offers a range of classes, from the Beginner's Glass Lover's Weekend (Jan. 8-9, $250) to Neon-Ease: An Introduction to the Basics of Neon (Feb. 24, $300). Alex MacCallum