Visual Arts: Molten Mysteries

Santisteban in his Franklin, Tenn., studio
Santisteban in his Franklin, Tenn., studio

Jose Santisteban—beads of perspiration glistening on his brow—rotates a long, thin metal tube tipped with a bubble of honey-colored molten glass inside a furnace that’s been heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. As African jazz plays in the background, Santisteban removes the pipe from the furnace, blows air into the glass bubble, and gently rolls it into a desired shape on a metal table. He repeats the process over and over, using various metal and wooden tools to shape the bubble into a beautiful glass vase.

“I’m fascinated by so many things about glass,” he says. “It’s a mysterious medium. I love its fluidity, how it moves and behaves. I love everything about it.”

Owner of the Franklin Glassblowing Studio, Santisteban, BA’99, came to his love of glassblowing after college, having taken only one art course—an elective in painting—as an undergraduate English major. “I didn’t want to go to graduate school in English or philosophy,” he says, “so a month after graduation, I went to Seattle and became apprenticed to a family friend who owned a glassblowing studio there.”

I’m fascinated by so many things about glass. It’s a mysterious medium. I love its fluidity, how it moves and behaves. I love everything about it.

—Jose Santisteban, BA’99

It was in Seattle that Santisteban met famed glassblowers like Dale Chihuly and realized that making art from glass was his life’s calling. He went on to earn a master’s degree in fine arts from Rochester Polytechnic Institute in New York, then studied with master Venetian glassblowers Silvano Signoretto and Davide Salvadore in Murano, Italy.


Returning to Middle Tennessee, Santisteban spent two years planning and building a modern glassblowing studio in a renovated office building in Franklin, just south of Nashville. “Modern” is a misnomer, as the glassblowing process has changed very little since the Phoenicians invented it in the first century B.C. Today’s furnaces may be heated by gas or electricity instead of wood, and a stainless steel table has replaced the marble slab where the blown glass is turned and shaped. But the media and equipment—shards of clear and colored glass; metal blowpipes, tweezers and cutters; wooden shaping blocks; even wet paper—are very similar to the ancient tools of the trade.

Santisteban3-666Prices for Santisteban’s work range from $65 for a paperweight to $400 for a small vase and several thousand dollars for a chandelier. He also offers instruction in glassblowing for beginners and advanced students.

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