The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Glass artist recalls passion’s beginning

Master glassblower Gerardo Munoz holds the pipe steady in one hand and the malleable glass with a towel in another as Dora Esparza blows into the pipe from the other end. The glass slowly expands as the glass is shaped into a crown. Garcia Glass is a hot glass design and fabrication center that specializes in glass blown lighting and sculpture. By Nicole West

By Nicole West

As a jock in high school who planned on becoming a doctor, just like her father and brothers, Maria Eugenia “Gini” Garcia never thought she would grow up to be a glass blower.

Today, she is the owner of Garcia Glass, a hot glass design and fabrication center that specializes in glass blown lighting and sculpture. Her clients span the globe, from the San Antonio Spurs to AT&T, Volvo and even Warner Brothers. Garcia’s studio is open to visitors for glass blowing demonstrations 10 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

On a recent Wednesday morning at the studio, three workers, wearing bandanas to hold their hair back, move quickly as they create a maroon crown, piece by piece, with their bare hands. Gini says they don’t use gloves because they work with water, which creates steam and can burn their hands. After a quick break, the men sweep the fallen glass scraps, which started as hot, thick liquid. At the same time, the blowers blend words of English and Spanish effortlessly.

Anyone walking down South Presa Street can hear the huge industrial fans, used to keep the temperature low in the studio. Dora Esparza, Gini’s sister, leads five co-workers, all men, during their current project. “We need to make five more of these,” Esparza says, referring to the maroon, dotted glass, shaped as a decorative crowns that will adorn tables at an upcoming gala.

The maroon crowns were made for Rey Feo, for the Hispanic Chamber Gala, Gini says. Their scholarship is for education, so they put olive leaves on them because in ancient times, scholars adorned their heads with wreaths.

A couple, greeted by Esparza, walks in and sits on the bleachers as the blowers begin creating a new crown. Master glassblower Gerardo Muñoz holds the pipe steady in one hand, and the hot glass with a towel in another, as Esparza blows into the pipe from the other end. The glass slowly expands.

After the glass expands, Esparza rolls the middle of the pipe over ice water and moderately holds the hot glass end of the pipe in a 2,250 degree furnace.

“The burner propels this intense fire that melts the glass,” Gini says. The furnace has to stay on 24 hours to keep the glass from breaking inside. For safety precautions, it has an automatic shut off valve.

Maria Eugenia “Gini” Garcia, owner of Garcia Glass, searches through a catalog for a bar to hang a glass chandelier created for a client. By Nicole West

Early encouragement

Gini’s life in the industry began to unfold after her mother, Dora Garcia, saw her daughter’s interest in color and art, and encouraged her to study design.

“I come to art from a science background,” Gini says. She was a pre-med student at St. Mary’s University for two years who then made a transition to art making. But the scientific process stayed with her. “I really got into dissecting and drawing all the little animals (during the labs).”

“My dad was very conservative and didn’t encourage me to go to medical school,” Gini says. “I was just kind of going in that direction.”

That’s when she transferred to San Antonio College and enrolled in drawing and design classes. “Back then, it was interior design, like the perfect thing for a women,” Gini says. After attending an art school transfer fair, Gini received a scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s in industrial and environmental studies at Kansas City Art Institute.

Soon after Gini graduated from the art institute in 1983, she came back to San Antonio and worked as a designer for her own design firm.

In 1994, her interest in glass blowing began when she was asked by a woman from Utopia, TX to homeschool her children in art and design for a year. “She wanted me to make her a giant 12-foot snake for her child’s birthday party,” she says. “She was a glass art collector. That’s where it all started.”

That same year, while Garcia vacationed with her family, she came across the New Orleans School of Glass Works.

“They were blowing glass, making big giant things,” Gini says. “Sacred hearts, thorns and flames and it was right then and there I had a religious experience and said this is what I want.”

After selling her design company and equipment to learn glass blowing, she went back to the New Orleans school and took her first glass blowing class.

“I didn’t feel the need to go back to school (for a degree),” Gini says. Instead, she sought out prominent teachers in the industry who taught in Texas, New York and Maine.

In 2003, Gini attended a final school in Murano, Italy to learn how to make Venetian chandeliers.

Back in Texas, Gini worked at a glass blowing studio in Wimberley for a year until she realized she wanted to do her own thing.

She “rallied the troops” and her mom helped her open her own studio. In 1998, Garcia Glass was formed in Boerne, Texas. Gini relocated the business to San Antonio in 2003.

In the early life of Garcia Glass, Gini had an internship program with students from the University of Texas at Austin where they earned credits to learn glass blowing. “When I started the company, I was the glassblower, I was making everything,” Gini says.

Today, Gini’s sister runs the hot glass studio, and their mother runs the office. They each own a percentage of Garcia Glass.

Since Gini’s family is from Monterrey, Mexico, she reached out to family currently living there who are also in the glass blowing industry.

Glass blower Antonio Deleon, also from Mexico, came through a cultural exchange visa, allowing him in the U.S. for a few years to teach glass blowing to Gini and her employees. This year, he’s on his second turnaround.

Five years ago, Esparza came into her sister’s business without knowing how to blow glass. She was taught by Muñoz, originally from Tonala, Mexico, a little town outside Guadalajara. Muñoz was recommended by one of Gini’s cousin’s from Monterrey, Gini says. “The factory where he worked at closed.”

Muñoz has been with Garcia Glass for about six years, Esparza says.

The studio, open to passing foot tracks when the large doors are pulled open, is a tourist attraction on the weekends, beckoning pedestrians with the warm glow of hot glass clinging to the end of long pipes.

On a recent evening, as the five workers continue the glass blowing process, Spanish music fights the fans, the glass blowing and spoken words. One worker turns the metal pipe with the hot glass barely hanging on.

“Glass is like the consistency of honey, it dribbles all over the floor, so you see the glass maker constantly turning the pipe,” Gini says.

When it’s hot, they use diamond shears to shape it. Then, they roll the pole in ice water with the glass at the end, and stick it back in the furnace.

“Glass is a filter for light and color,” Gini says. The glass is colored outside of the furnace with about 350 colors to choose from. All colors come from Germany and are made from metal oxides. For instance, silver metal oxide creates purple and gold oxide makes ruby.

To make the production process easier, Gini has different companies compensated for design, glass blowing, installation and travel.

All projects are designed by her company, G3 Advanced, located in the Hyatt Regency. “We have to do the design work in order to price (the glass),” Gini says. G3 Advanced started in 2008 and handles drawings, sign services and installation services. Before projects are made, how the glass will hang and weight needs to be determined.

Gini recently started G4, the furniture line, located at a warehouse on the East Side near the Alamodome. She says she will be setting up furniture in the studio for the holidays for visitors to browse.

Garcia Glass is currently creating 800 Spurs cups for the Spurs Silver and Black Give Back gala. Gini says they have to create 25 cups a day, from now until January. They will have up to 4,000 cups set aside to sell and Garcia Glass will give 20 percent back to their foundation.

“I’m so much happy I ended up going this route,” Gini says.

Instead of saving lives through medicine, she’s inspiring them through glass.

Master glassblower Gerardo Munoz spins a metal pipe to shape molten glass using a mold to shape the glass in the process of becoming a glass crown. The crowns were made for Rey Feo, for the Hispanic Chamber Gala. By Nicole West

About the Author

Nicole West
Nicole West is The Mesquite’s Cultura Editor. Nicole is a communications major with a minor in business. She attended San Antonio College Fall 2012, where she served as a reporter of The Ranger. She is a 2013 participant of the Emmy-award winning Proyecto U broadcast collaborative advised by Communications faculty and KWEX 41/Univision San Antonio, and a 2010 Holmes High School graduate where she was head photographer of her high school yearbook. She recently completed an internship with Gemini Ink, a literary arts center located in San Antonio and is currently interning with San Antonio Magazine. In September 2013, Nicole was selected as an outstanding prospective student for the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism's Rodgers Fellowship.

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