Kevin Twing is an accidental artist. While attending a business conference in 2014 he came across The Boro School in downtown Seattle and signed up for a glassblowing class. It was there that Twing, then 47, discovered his love of functional glassblowing, or pipemaking.
Borosilicate glass, referred to as boro within the industry but known by most as Pyrex, is a type of glass made with silica and boron trioxide. The combined ingredients create a hard glass with a high heat and shock tolerance; it's useful for items like scientific beakers and cookware, but also makes boro glass difficult to shape.
"That glass just kicked my ass from one side of the studio to another," Twing said.
Twing leaves the state at least twice a year to take classes that further his skill. Now, with the help of shopmate Brian Rosenberg, he's opening Flowstate Glassworks in Anchorage to make the expensive art of glassblowing more accessible for new glassblowers.
Twing grew up in both Anchorage and Chugiak, graduating from Dimond High School in 1985. He was first introduced to glassblowing while visiting the Northway Mall in the early '80s, where he watched a local glassblower make big, elaborate pieces of art through a display window. Even then, Twing recalls being fascinated by the medium. "I always used to sit there and watch," he said.
After graduation, Twing spent six years serving in the U.S. Navy as an electronic technician and rescue swimmer, all the while still carrying a torch for the art of bending glass. "(Friends and I) were walking around the Kowloon District of Hong Kong and there was a guy doing little bowls and stuff with an old, crappy torch and what looked like used, discarded glass," Twing recalled. "It's just one of those things that sticks with you."
Soon after returning from Seattle, Twing bought supplies to start pipemaking at home. His garage quickly became an unofficial studio and social hub for local glassblowers. But with so many people looking for space to work in, Twing decided to open a real studio. Plus, he said, "I'm 50 years old; I don't want a bunch of people in my house."
Twing has spent a majority of the last nine months doing renovations; the roughly $40,000 project has been paid for completely out of pocket. Walking into his shop, Flowstate Glassworks, it's clear that a lot of time has been put into creating the studio, located just off International Airport Road by C Street. Noisy vents keep fumes cycling out of the building, and a center island has become a hub for both finished glassworks and raw materials. Recently, artist Jerome Mallory completed an Alaska-themed mural on the studio's main wall.
A frugal shopper can buy all the necessary startup tools for glassblowing for around $600, Twing said, but the expenses go up once you factor in shipping costs for raw glass.
"That's what made me want to start teaching studio; it's so frustrating and so expensive to go (Outside) and learn how to do this. So I've been scraping and saving and sold a commercial fishing boat trying to get this going."
Twing and Rosenberg recently started selling mini water pipes through Instagram to help offset costs as they finish up the final touches on the studio. "That's where your bread and butter is; that's where people are spending money to buy glass. Paperweights are cool, but not everybody wants a big glass paperweight," he explained.
Twing hopes to someday own a bigger space and have a glass art studio featuring multiple mediums, including soft glass and furnace glasswork.
"I'm too old to become known as an artist: shakes, drinking too much coffee … that ain't gonna happen."
He would much rather teach the next generation.
To find out more about the studio, visit them on Instagram: @flowstateglassworks.