02-10 Janusz Pozniak Blown Away

[Image above] Janusz Poźniak competes on the first season of glassblowing competition show “Blown Away.” Credit: Janusz Pozniak, YouTube

When it comes to my friend group, I’m in the minority for not being hooked on a reality competition show. Be it “The Great British Bake Off,” “Face Off,” or “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” none of the topics have caught my interest enough to religiously follow the series.

This past week, though, I came across a unique reality competition show on Netflix called “Blown Away.” The show is a glassblowing competition, and after watching the first season, I knew such a series should be featured on CTT.

Before we dive into the show, let’s take a look at the Corning Museum of Glass, which plays an integral role in the series.

Corning Museum of Glass and its artists-in-residence

Talk to almost any glass artist about places that inspire them, and many will likely point to the Corning Museum of Glass.

Corning Incorporated established the Corning Museum of Glass in 1951 as a gift to the nation for the company’s 100th anniversary. The nonprofit museum is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of glass, with more than 50,000 objects; the world’s foremost library on glass, the Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library; and one of the top glassworking schools in the world, The Studio.

The Studio, in addition to offering glassmaking classes for a variety of skill levels and techniques, also hosts artists-in-residence every year. For those unfamiliar with the art world, artist-in-resident programs are opportunities for artists to live and work outside of their usual environments. Institutions such as museums, universities, and galleries will invite artists to reside within their premises for a few days to more than a year, and in exchange the artist will produce work that the institution can display.

The Studio offers several types of residencies that vary in length and stated goals, and artists usually secure these residencies by filling out an application. However, in 2019, a select group of artists were offered a different way to secure a residency—by competing on a reality competition show.

Blown Away: Glassblowing gets the reality show treatment

“Blown Away” is a Canadian reality glassblowing competition television series that premiered on the Canadian channel Makeful before a subsequent release on the streaming platform Netflix.

The show, which premiered its first season in July 2019, welcomed 10 artists to “the largest hot shop in North America,” according to the producers. The hot shop was a converted, unused warehouse located in Hamilton, Ontario, which is about an hour drive southwest of Toronto. And as the show continually reminded viewers each episode, the shop featured all of the equipment needed for glassblowing, including

  • Furnaces to collect molten glass;
  • Blowpipes for inflating the glass;
  • Punties to handle the glass;
  • A variety of tools to shape, cut, and twist the glass;
  • Glory holes to keep the glass hot for sculpting; and
  • Annealers to slowly cool the glass to prevent cracking.

Over the course of 10 episodes, the artists would create glass pieces based on different themes, and competitors were sent home one at a time until only one remained. Throughout the competition, a variety of glassblowing techniques were highlighted, including reticello and incalmo.

Global entertainment company marblemedia came up with the idea for “Blown Away” a few years ago. They approached Corning early on in the process to see if the museum might be willing to assist during production. In an interview, Corning senior manager of hot glass programs and marketing communications operations Eric Meek explains, “The more we learned, the more we knew we wanted to be a part of it.”

And so it was that in addition to a $60,000 prize package, the winner of “Blown Away” also receives a weeklong guest residency at the Corning Museum of Glass. “They’re really open to use the resources of the museum and the skills of our team to create what they want,” Meek says in an article on The Leader. “The thing about having a guest artist here is it’s totally up to them; they can use the time as they want to make what they want.”

Check out the trailer for season 1 below. And if you have Netflix, check out the whole series too!

Credit: What’s on Netflix, YouTube

Television isn’t the only medium that materials scientists can harness to interest people in glass and ceramics. Check out this month’s episode of Ceramic Tech Chat, which talks with University of Utah associate professor Taylor Sparks and BS/MS student Andrew Falkowski about their podcast Materialism and how scientists can harness different platforms to share their research with a broader audience.