It’s safe to say that becoming a glassblower as skilled as Matthew Cummings doesn’t just happen overnight. Funny because he wasn’t supposed to be one.
“I wanted to be an architect,” explains Matthew Cummings of his early days in college. “That’s why I started with a dual degree in art and math. And then, in my junior year, I had to start taking electives on the art side of my major. There was only painting, drawing, glassblowing, and ceramics, and I had absolutely no interest in taking ceramics. So I didn’t choose to take glassblowing, I chose not to take ceramics.”
Many of us have had similar experiences. We’ve all taken classes in college for an easy “A,” or to get out of taking a much more difficult class, or simply to fill up our schedule to maintain the ruse of being a “full-time student.” But rarely do such experiences turn out to be so serendipitous when it comes to a career… and one might say, even a calling.
“First semester, like the first day, I was blown away, I was infatuated,” says Cummings. “I was not even done with the semester when I changed my major. I had no idea if it was even possible to have a career as a glass artist, but I knew that was what I wanted to do, and that was immediate.”
Learning to work with glass as an artistic medium is quite literally trial by fire. Before glass can be blown and molded with a glassblowing pipe, it has to be heated into its liquid, molten form. “You have to love fire to even approach glassblowing,” says Cummings. “The first thing you do is learn how to gather molten glass out of the furnace. They open the furnace door that exposes the port hole, and you have 2,000 degree heat blasting at your face, and you have a metal rod, and they expect you to go in with the rod and and collect the molten glass.”
“So you’ve got to love heat,” continues Cummings. “It takes a certain kind of person to not immediately throw down the metal rod and walk away. There’s something about having an inner pyromaniac, it’s almost like an artistic sport.”
Over the years, Cummings has gone from student, to apprentice, to gallery artist, to the owner and proprietor of the Pretentious Beer Glass Company in Knoxville, Tennessee. And yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like: A company that makes expensive, hyper-specific, hand-made beer glasses. The idea came to Cummings after drinking his share of beers from more standard, less-inspiring pint glasses. Cummings, having spent untold hours working with glass, realized there had to be a better way.
“When you talk about really getting into refined craft — at the far end of a really refined craft — the artist’s bodies and their body language really starts to become affected by the material. After you’ve worked with that material for thousands and thousands of hours, it changes you. For me, as soon as I go into the glassblowing studio, man, my posture changes.”