Within the walls of the Russell Industrial Center, an ancient tradition is taking place. Glassblowers are busy at work, painstakingly molding, crafting, blowing and spinning the molten masses entrusted at the ends of their blowpipes. A practice traced back all the way to the Roman Empire of 1st century BC is happening right in Detroit’s own backyard.
Of these craftsmen is Detroit native, Albert Young, glassblowing instructor and owner of Michigan Hot Glass Workshop – Michigan’s oldest independently owned glassblowing school. Young is deeply respected in the Detroit glass community and his glass-casting methods using a mixture of glass and metal are world-renowned.
Young, who attended College for Creative Studies in Detroit, studied ceramics in the early 80’s but was quickly drawn to the proverbial flame of glassblowing as well, siting, “The glass shop was across the hall and I thought, ‘I just got to do it.’ Then I got hooked on it.” After graduating, Young went on to practice his craft in the Russell Industrial Center.
25-year tenant of the Russel Industrial Center, Young peers down the length of his blow tube as he gently breathes life into his piece, intensely focused on the detail and precision of his work.
Russell Industrial Center is the largest artist community in the Midwest, spanning 2,200,000-square-feet over 7 buildings. It houses a mixture of creative spaces including three “hot shops” – two of which are rented and operated by Young. These hot shops are part of the very life blood of the center’s identity.
A famous mural on the side of the Russell Industrial Center by Kobie Solomon, depicts a mythological Chimera, which Solomon once described as being a “…representation of the majority of the creative activities going on at the Russell on a daily basis among the artists there. His mane is made out of brushes, pencils, files, x-acto knives, chisels, pens – the whole shebang. His tail ends with a glass blower’s torch.”
“Glass is a high-skill craft. There were things I could do with glass that other people weren’t doing. I came in at a really good time. In the mid ‘80s there was less technique and more creativity; now there’s less creativity and more technique,” noted Young. A glass-wielding legend in the Detroit art community and a self-professed “top heap” veteran of the Russell Industrial Center, Young acts a sort of spirit guide for new building tenants, mentoring them as they familiarize themselves with the space.
“This is just great studio space,” Young noted. “It’s affordable, it’s durable and I can’t burn it down.”
A collection of timeworn glassblowing tools lie in wait at Young’s bench. Among them, the shears and jacks used to cut and manipulate the molten glass.
Captured here (left) in one of Young’s hot shops, molten glass is heated to around 2,000 °F and then placed into a metal mold to shape and cool the piece in its early stages of creation. Young (right) sculpts folds of glass with a precision that confirms his mastery of the technique.
One of Young’s famous geometric sculptures (top) of cast glass and welded steel stands illuminated in his shop’s gallery.
“Right now, everyone’s enamored with this new energy in Detroit. But artists have always been here,” said Young who describes Detroit as having had a gutsy and rustic identity long before her recent artistic boom. “Detroit has always been a great place to make art.”