Handmade Spotlight: Getting Torched with Mike Mills

April 27, 2011 Julie

Field Trip! On Monday, a few friends and I went to the Carlisle School of Glass Art in Millville (still in beautiful NJ, for any of you out-of-state readers). The School of Glass Art is an extension of Carlisle Machine Works, Inc., a family owned and operated company manufacturing torches, burners and other equipment for scientific and artistic glassworking.

Our mission was to learn how to make beautiful glass beads (as well as come to terms with how super cool we all looked in our purple safety glasses).

Our instructor was Michael Mills, a man of many talents who teaches at Carlisle and generously put up with our antics and endless questions.

Our primary lesson of the day was learning that it’s a lot harder to make a pretty little round bead than you might think. And, our secondary lesson of the day was learning how fun it is to play with fire (in a controlled, supervised and safe environment in the name of art, of course).

Despite what a newbie and hack glassworker I am, my beads still turned out beautifully! See the cylinder beads that I got so good at making? That’s what you do when you’ve already messed up the sphere you were attempting – you shmoosh it. Still looks good, right? (Oh, and Mike made that fancy pendant on the left – it’s just slightly out of my skill set at present time).

Though, I had never worked with glass before, I am now supposedly “experienced” enough to attend Carlisle’s “Open Torch Nights” on Thursdays. Can’t wait. (: You can check out Carlisle’s website for all their class info here so, too, can come to “Open Torch Nights” and read my interview with Michael Mills after the jump!

Meet Mike Mills.

How did you get into glassworking?

I spent much of my childhood pursuing one art form after another, constantly searching for new methods to express myself. During a young artists workshop at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where I was studying ceramics, an instructor introduced me to goldsmithing. I practiced this new skill at home and took a few classes at area colleges. A year later, I enrolled in the Gemological Institute of America’s jewelry manufacturing arts program in Carlsbad, CA, where I learned hand fabrication of silver, gold, and platinum.

After graduation, I apprenticed as a lapidary, learning various aspects of gemstone cutting, carving, and engraving, while at the same time fabricating hand wrought jewelry in my home studio. In 2002 a friend offered to teach me glass working in exchange for work space in my studio. I was instantly entranced by and addicted to this new fluid medium. Since that first encounter I have been devoted to the exploration of glass as an artistic medium, and has since attended classes and workshops at the Carlisle School of Glass Art, Salem Community College, and the Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass.

What’s your favorite aspect of making glass art?

Above my workbench in my shop I have a little sign that says “You can form molten earth”. That’s a wonderful thought. I love the challenge of dancing with a liquid, moving with it and gravity, gently guiding it into shape. I love the challenge of a medium that can’t be touched. I love the fire. I love the chemistry. I love the fact that I’ll never know all there is to know about the material.

What inspires your art?

I have always been very traditional when it comes to craft. I consider myself a craftsman instead of an artist because in today’s world the focus of “Art is about the concept behind the object. What I do is entirely about the object I’m creating, considering form alongside function, not one above the other. Skill and craftsmanship are my top priorities–with skill comes craftsmanship, and with craftsmanship comes form.

As a lover of skilled craftspeople, I am inspired by them. Especially where I see great skill and craftsmanship in their work. A few contemporary glassworkers who inspire me are Loren Stump, the man who reinvented Murrini; Jim D’Onofrio, whose paperweights tell the most wonderful stories; David Graeber, who crafts unbelievable floral weights; and Lucio Bubacco, a true Maestro –a bit explicit, but breathtaking nonetheless.

I am also inspired by many other craft styles, forms, techniques, and styles.

The workshop felt a little like were on the cartoon set of" The Jetsons."

What’s so cool about the Carlisle School of Glass Art?

Carlisle is a wonderful learning environment. Everyone there loves glass and
is willing to share what they know.

How can we get more information about Carlisle and its classes?

The easiest way is to visit our website here. You can also request private lessons so feel free to contact us at 800-922-1167 or 856-825-5510. You can also email carlisle (at) carlislemachine (dot) com or friend us on Facebook.

Carlisle Machine Works, Inc. is located at 412 South Wade Boulevard in Millville, NJ.

Thanks so much to Amanda for organizing, to Julie for driving (and bringing that delicious hummus), to Rich for offering such great tips and insight (he was the most experienced student out of the bunch). And, a big thanks to Mike for being so generous with your time and instruction!


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