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Glass Hearts 

An ancient craft goes public at an East Side studio

Glass is like honey," says Chris Crimaldi. "You shape it, blow it, manipulate it." Illuminated by the glow of his studio furnace, he gathers the molten glass onto the long, hollow pipe — sure enough, like honey on a dipper — then turns it. "It's like a dance. You have to keep the pipe moving. The goal is to keep it on center."

A few years ago Crimaldi, an electrician by trade, had been involved in community theater, but found himself longing for a new creative endeavor. He was hooked by a glass-making workshop he took with noted artist Rene Culler. When he learned that Culler was selling her studio in a converted World War II torpedo factory on East 105th Street, he leaped at the chance to buy it.

Crimaldi, 38, wanted to share his passion for glass-making — to create "a public-access glass-blowing studio for Cleveland." With his business partner, 23-year-old Nick Comella, they opened J and C Glass Studio in spring 2010; by November, business began to take off.

The studio consists of a "hot shop," centered around a 2,200-degree furnace, and a "cold shop," where the cooled glass is ground, polished, and cut. But thanks to a bar illuminated by handmade glass fixtures and a jukebox settled into the corner, the place more closely resembles a friendly warehouse tavern than a craftsman's workspace.

"This is like our home, and these are our guests," Crimaldi says of those who flock to the studio. J and C offers classes ranging from three-hour beginners' workshops to intermediate and advanced courses, which cover color applications and advanced techniques. The studio also hosts school groups, professional associations, and adult glass-blowing parties — complete with beer, wine, and hors d'oeuvres.

For Crimaldi, imparting his love of the art — and seeing students' faces when they behold their creations — is clearly more meaningful than selling his work; he leaves that to the galleries that feature him, including a new spot that opened in June in the Murray Hill Schoolhouse.

As beautiful as the results are, glass-making is not for the timid. Novices are often unprepared for the intensity of the raging fire. "Opening the furnace door, and it's 2,200 degrees — they get shocked," Crimaldi says. "But you get used to it." Besides, he adds, the results are worth it.

"The piece has so much more meaning because you had to go through that and get the piece into the kiln without breaking it. I have such a huge appreciation for that process."

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