Hot Shot: Glassblower Jack Pine turns up the heat in the Hocking Hills

Story by Meredith S. Jensen • Photos by John Halley

Jack Pine is a dancer and the hot shop his stage.

One October morning, the curtain lifts early over the glassblowing studio. Long before the buses begin dropping off gaggles of curious tourists, Pine and his fellow glassblowers emerge from the wings. Lights up on the furnaces, the ovens, the hard-worn tools of the trade. Cue the music, an eclectic playlist made for keeping rhythm. Our players take their places in front of their stations—one to gather and color, another to blow and shape, yet another to add the finish. It’s pumpkin season. The full cast has been called into production.

The dance begins. Pine has perfected the routine over 30 years. He’s taught his artists every step, so they’re all interchangeable. Working with molten glass carries a sense of urgency, but demands delicate poise at the same time. High-speed skills must be perfectly executed at even higher temperatures. Each artist is keenly aware of where they are in the process and where they are in space. They weave in and out of each other, creating a moving, breathing tapestry of flame, metal, glass, and more than a few tattooed bodies. The tattoos help cover the scars of the ungraceful moments.

“Yeah, you get cut and you get burned,” Pine tells a small crowd of onlookers as he twirls a blowpipe in his hand. “That’s just part of it.”

The Studio That Pumpkins Built

You’ll find Jack Pine Studio on Route 180, just down the road from the Rock House, one of the Hocking Hill’s finest gems. The long, grey warehouse sits back from the road, its wide lawn fading at the edges into the woods, as most things do around these parts. For Kathy Ramsay, the studio’s gatekeeper, the location offers people an alternative to movement-centered activities popular in the region.

“Our visitors are often tourists, not locals,” she said. “Not everyone wants to go zip-lining, not everyone wants to go hiking, not everyone can go horseback-riding or canoeing. This is something less strenuous, but interesting, too.”

All through the year, visitors can drop by the studio to watch demonstrations and shop hundreds of glass ornaments, vases, bowls, hummingbird feeders, and more, all made on site and by hand. The weeks before the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show are especially lively, Ramsay noted. Production ramps up as the studio turns out over 1,000 specialty squashes for the festival, each one a different color than the years before.

“There’s always a pumpkin-of-the-year,” she said. “We have standard colors for wholesale, but he always does an artist’s choice.”

Glassblower Britain Lovell has been working with Jack Pine on and off for years. Lovell, who lives in Austin, Texas, joined Pine and his crew for pumpkin season. During these busy times of the year at the studio, each artist essentially staffs a station, creating an assembly line that moves swiftly to fill orders.

“We work in teams of three or four, but we can all do the solo work ourselves,” Lovell said. “But we’re more efficient as a team.”

Glassblowing begins with batch, a combination of raw materials like silica (sand), soda ash, and lime, which are mixed and kept constantly molten in a furnace over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. For a signature Pine pumpkin, the blower gathers the clear glass at the end of a long, metal blowpipe, and then rolls it in in frit—colored, fine-ground glass bits— as well as a proprietor-protected combination of precious metals. The glass is then blown out like a balloon and heated again in a glory hole, an open-front, 2,000-degree oven used to reheat glass as it is being worked.

Each pumpkin is shaped using various tools like hardwood cedar paddles and metal calipers called jacks. With the help of a special blow rig, the artists gently force air into the glass bubble, constantly turning and shaping as they go. For the pumpkins, that means adding ridges and flattening the bottom just enough so they won’t roll.

“You’re always turning,” Lovell said. “Gravity is always affecting a piece. It’s your biggest tool and enemy at the same time.”

Once the pumpkin is shaped, it’s quickly snapped off the end of the blowpipe with a delicate tap, and the glass stem is added and shaped with a blowtorch. Torching also helps finish the piece, oxidizing the metals and bringing out their shine, Lovell said. The twinkle sets Jack Pine apart from other glass pumpkin-makers — a field that has become surprising crowded in the past few years.

“Honestly, he had a lot to do with it,” Lovell said. “Twenty years ago, a few people made pumpkins, but nobody focused on it. But he did for Circleville. Since then, everybody makes glass pumpkins. It has a lot to do with Jack Pine.”

The Glass Path

A southern Ohio native, Pine grew up in Tarlton, a village of 300 nestled between Circleville and Laurelville. Like many artists, he struggled in school. A bit of a recluse with “social skill issues,” Pine defaulted to being a clown rather than focus on his studies. Art gave him a much-needed outlet.

“I didn’t excel much in school,” he said. “I was skinny, kind of picked on a lot. The only thing I excelled in was art. I knew it was the only thing that was going to let me shine, so I put all my energy toward that.”

As a child, Pine didn’t really have any artists he wanted to emulate, he said. He spent hours simply creating and trusting where the process would lead. “I would get so involved in my own little world,” he said. “What made me really happy was coming up with some really cool stuff that I enjoyed on my own and seeing where each step would take me.”

Artist Jack Pine poses in the studio gallery

His father, a DuPont factory worker, and mother, a housewife, both were artists in their own right, Pine said. They would draw, paint, and most importantly encourage his passions—even when it involved fire.

“Glass holds a fascination for everybody,” he said. “I grew up having campfires and my dad would have a few beers, so we’d throw the beer bottles in. It was fun pulling them apart. I’m kind of a pyro. I love fire.”

Pine’s first foray into the art world was through Logan Elm’s ceramics classes, where he found a talent for throwing pots and teachers more than willing to mentor him. His hours mastering the work earned him a scholarship to the Columbus College of Art and Design, but he didn’t go right away. To help pay for the rest of school and to get a little world experience, Pine took a two-year stint with the U.S. Army.

“The Army really pulled me out,” he said. “It gave me the ability to face a lot of different fears and gave me discipline.”

By design, Pine found himself stripped of his identity, broken down, and built up again into a stronger person, artist, and entrepreneur. “It was weird being an artist in the military,” he said. “I think a successful artisan has to have discipline. You have to be able market what you’re doing. You have to be able to have endurance and toughness. You can’t be in your little artist world too deep, because no one will buy what you like just because you think it’s great.”

Post-Army, the future glassblower headed off to CCAD to study advertising. The first in his family to attend college, Pine said his parents hoped he’d get a lucrative job in the field. But the idea of wearing a suit and being in the city all day never fully formed.

“After the military, I started to figure out what I really wanted to do and how I wanted to live my life for me instead of how everyone else wanted me to,” Pine said. “I switched my career from advertising to fine arts and got back into ceramics. I just didn’t want to be part of the rat race. The country boy side kicked in and I just couldn’t see myself being part of the massive rush downtown. It was so weird to see the pulse of the city. There was too much energy, too much anger.”

Pine grew restless. After the childhood discipline of farm life, then the Army, then the structure of a four-year school, he was ready to “break out.” He dropped out, loaded up his Escort with his ferret and $200 in gas, and hit the road for the West Coast.

“I headed up to Seattle where I was essentially homeless for a minute,” he said. “But that was fine with me. I was ready for the adventure.”

He crashed with friends until he scored a job at a “grungy” deli, the kind of place that sells sandwiches, gasoline, and not much else. There, Pine struck up a friendship with a regular customer, who suggested he try out glassblowing and sent him to a friend’s studio. Pine, who had only taken one glassblowing class in his entire 22 years on the planet, didn’t let his lack of experience stop him.

Pine in his studio heating a gather of glass in one of the several furnaces on the property.

“I was blown away,” he said. “I loved the look of it. I got the job interview, but I didn’t know anything. They quickly figured that out in a day or two, but they knew how hungry I was. I was mesmerized. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this forever.”

Pine said one of the greatest attractions to glassblowing is the constant state of learning. You have to be a mechanic, plumber, electrician, and artist all at once, he said. That’s not to mention the science that goes into thermal dynamics.

“It’s endless what you can learn. You never stop learning,” he said. “You’ll never be the worst, but you’ll never be the best. There are some incredible artists out there who can blow glass just by looking at it. But you see the passion and the knowledge in it.”

Four years later, the studio in Seattle fell on hard times. Pine packed up in 1985 and headed back to Ohio, but not for long. He ran into a friend who told him about a hot shop in Boulder, Colo., which was looking for artists. Again, Pine drove west. He didn’t know it, but his life was about to change.

“A friend wanted me to make a glass pumpkin for a friend of hers,” he said. “I just goofed around and made this little pumpkin and thought, ‘Oh, this would be so great for Circleville!’”

As cracks began to form in the company, Pine made his next moves. He and his friend essentially rented time from the studio and moonlighted making glass pumpkins. They filled a little trailer with about 400 basic little glass gourds and headed for The Pumpkin Show.

A process of layering colored glass, and finishing with layers of enamels and precious metals creates saturated colors and intricate surface on Pine’s work.

“We took a little risk,” he said. “We were scared and excited. But needless to say, we were such a hit that we were scraping broken pumpkins from the bottom of the box. People were still like, ‘we’ll buy it!’

Through the early 90s, Pine linked up with different business partners, opening and closing studios throughout Colorado, learning more about the business side of art. He continued to develop pumpkins for The Pumpkin Show as a side project.

“I thought, ‘what about different colored ones?’” Pine said. “People went nuts. The wilder the color, the better. Circleville was the perfect testing ground for that.”

With pumpkin popularity on the rise, Pine added them to his production line full time. Using their inspiration as a springboard, he left Colorado and headed back to Ohio. Eventually, he took over a warehouse in Columbus at Cleveland and 5th Avenues, converting it into an apartment and a studio—this time, without a partner.

“I did very well,” he said. “I did trade shows, wholesale, and would travel to every major metropolitan city for street art festivals. I was lucky to have some really good crew members along the way.”

Home in the Hocking Hills

One of the studio’s master craftsman inspecting the glass form.

But Columbus was still the city, and the city still wasn’t home. In 2017, Pine opened his new studio in Laurelville. More than 25 years after his first pumpkin, he wanted to come back to his family and the source of his inspiration.

“I had been looking down in this region for awhile,” he said. “I’d been bragging on the Hocking Hills to everybody all over the country. When I show them pictures, they don’t believe how beautiful it is.”

Pine thinks Laurelville is ripe for development and discovery. Eventually, he wants to open an exclusive glass-blowing school to offer classes, workshops and more. He sees his shop as a unique experience where visitors can watch art being made as an attraction, not just something to buy and take home.

“What a great thing to do, especially in the wintertime,” he said. “Cozy up next to the fire and watch a bunch of creative artisans work.”

Shop Locally This Holiday Season:

Jack Pine Studio
21397 OH 180
Laurelville, OH 43135
Special open house December 8-9

Homegrown on Main
44 E. Main St.
Logan, OH 43138

Shop Online
www.etsy.com/shop/jackpinestudios