Friday, November 14, 2008

Making Glass at Onna Glass

We went to the Onna Glass Factory on 58 in Onna-son and I've got photos to show it!

Okinawa is known for its beach glass, Ryukyuan glass I think I've heard it called. In any touristy-shop worth its sea salt you should find at least 10 pieces of glass made here in the Okinawa. I'm not totally fluent in communicating the aesthetics of glass but I can tell you how I understand Ryukyuan glass, which is to say it seems to be generally rustic but the master glass makers here also create amazing sculptures and abstract compositions - way better than Chihuly's stuff that was all over Atlanta for so long.

A lot of the glass I see here is pretty playful, which was what I was hoping to be able to get when we went to the shop. Word to the wise, bring a friend that can communicate in Japanese because there are a number of things you can do at the shop. When you arrive you are greeted by what looks like the gift shop, but is actually the staging area for your experience. Throughout this room are glass works in different shapes and colors and dimensions. The size and color largely determine the cost of the glass making experience.

I chose blue because it's cheap and also because that's the color I think of most when I think Okinawa. I chose to make one that was pretty playful and really not much bigger than a standard "rocks" glass at a bar. It had several divets put into it that accomodated my fingers nicely - ergonomic, but not nerdy; relaxed. Shinpai shinai de, ii sa! Which is the most complicated thing I can say in Uchinaguchi (the indigenous Okinawan language), it means, basically, don't worry, everything will be okay. That's what this cup told me.

So, you walk in and you realize just how committed you have to be to the artform to do this in Okinawa: it's crazy hot in the factory! Crazy hot.

This was another one of many experiences I've had here in Okinawa where I am allowed to do really UNSAFE things with minimal concern. Like walking around these blast furnaces wearing shorts and flip flops.

But don't worry, you really can't hurt yourself because you will be surrounded by, like, a dozen people. Sometimes I felt like I was being corralled by the artisans, bringing a depth of meaning to the old phrase, "like a bull in a china shop."

After you've gone through the several steps for making your piece, they put the glass into a furnace that is less hot than where it can slowly cool over the next 12 hours or so. This way it doesn't shatter. You can pick it up from them the next day.

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