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Pittsburgh Glass Center – Blowing new life into the former Glass City

By Lindsay Lawrence

Point Park News Service

Growing up, Alex Szabo always had dreams of blowing glass although it seemed out of reach due to the lack of resources he had to work with. He knew that given the right circumstances, he would be able to create beautiful pieces of art that would last a lifetime. That’s when he discovered the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which not only offers classes and workshops, but is also offers a state of the art museum filled with meticulously crafted glass pieces and many interactive parties.

“I came into the Pittsburgh Glass Center and after being here for a few months I now feel I am able to effectively express my creativity,” said Szabo.

Co-Founding Artists of the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Kathleen Mulcahy and Ron Desmett shared a vision to create beautiful contemporary glass art that would revitalize the city of Pittsburgh. Mulcahy and Desmett were able to witness first-hand how decaying neighborhoods in New York City and parts of New Jersey were driven to revitalize their communities through the power of art.

Through assistance from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and other various donors, the two artist’s dream was brought to a reality when the Pittsburgh Glass Center opened to the public in 2001. Today it has grown into a place that attracts notable artists while still welcoming thousands of novice artists and visitors over the years.
According to Heather McElwee, The Assistant Director at the PGC, it enables its guests to re-live its history and to be a part of its future.

“We are a public access facility where people can come in and see glass blowing demonstrations. They can visit our galleries, see contemporary glass being made, try it for themselves with our make-it now opportunities or even take a longer class.”

Just outside of downtown Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, The PGC takes its visitors back to the early days of the city’s enriched history. Perhaps best known as the Steel City, many first time visitors to Pittsburgh may wonder why glass is such a hot commodity here.

“Many people aren’t aware that Pittsburgh could have just as likely been the glass city as the Steel City. There were almost as many glass factories as there were steel factories,” said McElwee.

Not only can you watch the entire process of glass pieces being made, you also have the chance to try it yourself through one of the many classes and workshops they offer.

PCG student Alex Szabo, 20, of Pittsburgh says making glass is consuming a large part of his life right now but he couldn’t be more grateful for challenges it presents and the rewarding pieces of art that are produced from that challenge.  He signed up to take the “compression and stringers” class and he has been hooked ever since. The compression and stringers class that Szabo is part of is taught by instructor Melissa Fitzgerald.

“It’s hard to believe but I’ve been teaching here at the PGC for almost five years now,” said Fitzgerald.

After graduating from Keystone College with a degree in studio arts, Fitzgerald migrated west to Pittsburgh. A few years later she found herself behind a glass blowing torch and has enjoyed it ever since.

Currently through the instruction of Fitzgerald, Szabo and his five other classmates are working on creating various marbles.  To start, recycled glass is put into a kiln that is heated to 22,000 degrees Fahrenheit. After 16 hours, the molten glass is released from the kiln through a side panel. After the glass is ready to be manipulated, each of the six students are able to form a marble of any size. Szabo says the best part of working with glass is being able to choose vibrant colors to mold into the pieces.

“For my marble, I wanted to choose three of my favorite colors, orange, gold and gray. I specifically chose the gray because of the shimmer effect it has when the final product is finished. It looks really cool.”

Marbles are just one of the hundreds of items students are able to create through the many classes and workshops that the PGC has to offer.  Fitzgerald and her fellow artist instructors have experienced knowledge of specific glass making techniques to teach students.

“I teach most of the flame shops which deals with mostly hard glass items like pyrex and I really enjoy it. There is another instructor who teaches on Saturdays and he focuses a lot of soft glass projects.”

Classes and workshops are available at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels that will suit anyone’s artistic ability.

The motivation behind visiting the Pittsburgh Glass Center is pretty transparent. But if you think that this medium is only for things like windows and beer bottles, the PGC is obviously eager to prove otherwise.

“Seeing something being essentially made from nothing is really amazing to me. With the help of my experienced instructor, I am able to experience each step of the glass creation process. It’s almost like a manipulation from another world,” said Szabo.

The Pittsburgh Glass Center is located at 5472 Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville.

Hours of operations are Tuesday through Thursday 10am – 7pm and Friday through Sunday 10am – 4pm.

For more information please visit their website at or contact by telephone 412-365-2145.

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  1. […] last a lifetime. That’s when he discovered the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which not only offers classes and workshops, but is also offers a state of the art museum filled with meticulously crafted glass […]

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