Professor Rick Mills approaches the 3,000-degree furnace and carefully inserts a long metal blowpipe into the heat, submerging and turning its end into the sea of molten glass below. As the glass begins to gather on the end of the pipe, he takes it out, allowing it to cool ever so slightly before repeating the process to get just the right amount of glass.
He slowly walks to the other side of the hot shop, still turning the pipe to keep the molten glass from succumbing to gravity. Approaching the large, flat slab of steel called the marver, he gently lowers the blowpipe and rolls the glass to smooth it into a uniform, round shape. An assistant brings the other end of the blowpipe to his mouth and forcefully blows down its center hole, placing his finger over the opening after releasing his breath to trap the air inside. As the air travels down the pipe, it becomes enclosed in the glass, expanding as it heats. They’ve just created the open space in what will soon become a hand-blown sea turtle made for a very special young art enthusiast: 10-year-old wish kid Owen from North Dakota, who is mesmerized as he watches the glass takes shape.
Battling a neuromuscular disorder, Owen had become fascinated with glassblowing while watching videos online. The movement of the molten glass reminded him of the sea, one of his two great loves alongside art. And as he dreamed about adventuring through Hawaii, he translated these loves onto paper, sketching both sea turtles and a glassblower.
When University of Hawaii at Manoa Professor of Art Rick Mills heard about Owen’s unique wish, he was inspired to share his 30-plus years of experience as a glass artist and educator. He asked to see one of Owen’s sketches: a large drawing of a Hawaiian sea turtle, or honu. He and his students taped the honu onto the steel marver and studied the sketch, planning out how to recreate it in glass form—down to every last line in the honu’s shell. They spent hours in the hot shop practicing the execution of this plan and creating a “first draft” glass honu to ensure they’d get it just right when Owen and his family came to visit.
On the day of his wish, Owen walked into the hot shop at the University of Hawaii at Manoa not quite knowing what to expect. His eyes were wide as he glanced around the room, from the students manipulating glass into various shapes for their school projects to the “Welcome Make-A-Wish” message written in chalk on the board. He listened as Professor Mills described the ancient art of glassblowing and how the principles behind it—hot furnaces, metal pipes, basic tools, and precise teamwork—hadn’t really changed in all this time. And he even got to blow into one of the pipes himself, watching his breath expand the clear circle of glass at the end of it.
Then, he took his seat and watched intently as Professor Mills and his team got to work. He noted the blowtorches strategically keeping certain parts of the piece hot enough, the color as it was worked into the glass, the technique as more layers of glass were added. He looked on from different angles, discussed his observations with his parents and siblings, and asked questions of Professor Mills’s friends—others who had been in the world of glass for decades, but who had never had an experience in the hot shop quite like this.
Owen watched for hours as the honu took shape and grew fins, a tail, and a head, averting his eyes only long enough to leave his own message on the hot shop’s chalkboard: “Thank you. From Owen.”
Soon, it was time for the glass to break free from the pipe and begin its long cooling process. As the small crowd of observers clapped and marveled at the entire process, Professor Mills smiled and extended his hand to Owen before drawing him into a hug, imparting inspiration and hope from one artist to another during this unforgettable wish come true.
Before he left the shop, Owen looked back at the furnaces and wondered what to call the one-of-a-kind glass rendering of his drawing that would soon be on display in his home in North Dakota. In honor of the man who’d brought it to life, he and family decided on the perfect name: Rick.
Make-A-Wish Hawaii would like to thank Professor Rick Mills and the University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Art and Art History for their aloha, generosity, and time in making Owen’s wish come true.
Read more here: https://www.hawaii.edu/news/2019/03/15/make-a-wish-glass-blowing/