The Glass Orchard does not grow any pumpkins, but a unique offering serves a similar role. Hundreds of blown glass pumpkins come in various shapes, sizes and colors, all of them handmade by co-owners Dawn Passineau and Jon Chapman.
Shortly after moving to Eau Claire in 2017, Passineau and Chapman wanted to differentiate their 15-acre operation from others in the area, so they offered about 300 blown glass pumpkins. The items sold well, and the idea grew the following year into around 400 pumpkins created by Chapman and Passineau in the hot shop behind their store, located at 130 Deerfield Road, a few miles south of downtown Eau Claire.
This Saturday and Sunday will mark the third sale and feature about 500 glass objects that resemble a true pumpkin collection.
“In a lot of ways, it’s like a real patch,” Chapman said.
While glass pumpkins are relatively new creations for Chapman and Passineau, they both have more than a decade of glass blowing experience. He started about 16 years ago as a high school hobby, and she began 11 years ago while in college.
They gradually build up to the fall sale by creating pumpkins year-round. Chapman and Passineau usually work in the hot shop in the morning for a few hours before tending to their apple orchard in the afternoon, something they view as a satisfying balance between arts and agriculture. Chapman said similarities exist between glass artistry and running an apple orchard because both require creativity, ingenuity, perseverance and craftsmanship.
“In the end, both of your goals is producing a quality product,” Chapman said.
The three main components of the hot shop include a furnace that constantly melts 300 pounds of glass at 2,000 degrees; a reheating oven to make materials more moldable when shaping the glass; and an annealer set at around 900 degrees to help cool the finished creations.
Once they start, it takes about 20 minutes to turn raw, molten glass into a fully-formed pumpkin or gourd. When they take material out of the furnace with a hollow steel blowpipe, the glass is in a thick liquid form resembling the texture of honey. One must continually spin the molten glass on the end of the blowpipe or else it will begin to drip and lose shape. After taking the glass out, one must briefly cool the blowpipe in water before taking more material out of the furnace. The next step involves mixing in color, with options including orange, blue, red and green, among others.
After adding color, one person sits on a bench and spins the molten glass while the other person blows on the opposite end of the blowpipe, rapidly expanding the glass into more of a spherical shape. It is then reheated, placed into a mold and blown to expand so the mold forms the ridges of a pumpkin. The nearly-completed piece is then placed on a stand for a few minutes before a glass stem is added. Finally, the item is put into the annealer for 13 to 18 hours. By the time it cools, it has hardened into a completed work of art.
Chapman and Passineau have worked together for several years and operate in concert as efficiently as possible throughout the glass blowing process. While Chapman finalizes the form of a pumpkin, Passineau begins working on the stem. When she completes the stem, Chapman has already begun working on a new piece. Chapman said when they hit a solid work rhythm, their movements resemble a wordless dance.
There is an inherent danger to the process, but mishaps are few and far between for the experienced glass blowers, who said proper heat and timing are the most challenging aspects of creating a quality glass object. On a colder day, for example, air will come in through the open side of the hot shop and cool the glass quicker.
Previously, Chapman and Passineau both taught college courses on glass blowing, sculpture and fine art, so they also offer weekend classes and demonstrations for people to try their turn at glass blowing, sculpting, casting, frameworking, fusing and slumping. Attendees can learn individually in the hot shop or as groups in the main store, creating a small glass flower or paperweight in about an hour.
They feel fortunate to work together on creating items they love and appreciate that area residents positively receive their classes and work.
“We chose the right town,” Passineau said.
What started as an idea two years ago has blossomed into a popular project that fulfills Chapman and Passineau creatively while bringing them closer to the community.