Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 18, 2013

A 'glass' act

By Lindsay Eckert
Tribune lifestyle editor

Kokomo — Passion is a funny thing. Sometimes one searches for it, sometimes one searches for a place to express it and, sometimes, it’s simply stumbled upon.

The last of the options is the beginning of Glass Blower Jeff Simmons’ story of finding passion -- after he first stumbled upon Kokomo Opalescent Glass Factory at an early age.

“I used to ride my bike in [Kokomo Opalescent Glass’] parking lot when I was a kid.” Simmons, who has lived in his Kokomo for all his 34 years, said. “I would have never believed you if you would’ve told me I’d work here one day.”

Simmons doesn’t just work at the Op Shop – as the factory is commonly called, he creates at the Op Shop.

“I love it, it’s not too often you find a job you really like to do and it’s full of creativity and a challenge,” Simmons said the words with his voice, but proved just how much he believed in his words with the expression in his eyes. “Just in this place, there’s so much history -- it’s a place of prestige and it’s nice to be part of a staple in our community; to be able to contribute to it.”

After graduating from Kokomo High School, Simmons came in for a job at the Op Shop working on plate glass – a heavy-duty chore of a job I witnessed while touring the facility. Men fill 60-pound ladles full of lava-glowing hot glass and run -- while tossing the melted and glowing ball of glass around in the ladle to keep it from taking shape – to the machine that crafts the glowing orb into a massive sheet of brilliant color.

“I started in ladle for about three years, and I’d come back here and play around a little bit,” Simmons said – “back here” is a room that looks like it hasn’t aged with the rest of the world: its concrete floors, brick walls and ovens for heating the glass-blowing sticks look like something that could only be seen in a black-and-white photo with raveling edges. Ironically, the Op Shop’s feeling of an aged spirit is one Simmons identifies his craft with.

“Glassblowing is one of the oldest art forms,” Simmons interrupts himself, excited about his craft’s history in the world, he shares an intriguing fact about all the places blown glass can be found on history’s timeline. “The first contact lenses were made from blown glass. And our tools haven’t changed from the tools hundreds of years ago, they’re very rudimentary, things are always changing, but glass blowing has [stayed true to its roots].”

While Simmons has a present place in glassmaking’s history, he said the honor of working in a form of artistic history is one he holds onto.

“I feel like I’m in a secret club, there aren’t a whole lot of people who fall into this, some do get a degree, but it’s a unique feeling. We take a lot of pride in it,” Simmons said, his hands working a glass-blowing stick as naturally as a painter grips his brush. “It’s something that can make you amazed and amazed with yourself, like when you make a mistake; some of the coolest things started from a mistake.”

As I asked Simmons questions, I took a try at the form of art he so endearingly describes. He gently maneuvers a small shape of liquid glass, illuminated by its own heat, onto the stick.

I, and my lungs, followed suit and blew air through the stick to help the gel-like glass take its shape into something to create. Mistake made, my lungs worked too well and “something to create” was “something to melt back down”.

Simmons snickered, “It’s something that takes a lot of time to learn and just a little time to appreciate.”

Go appreciate Howard County’s glass and its glass artists this weekend for Art on Fire, open your eyes to an astonishing craft – you may even stumble upon a passion.

-- Lindsay Eckert

[friday] editor/ Go create