Glass Blower George Averbeck Shows How High Heat and Time Create Beauty in the Universe

Averbeck’s ornaments also are exhibited at the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Sedona Arts Center.

On a September morning, George Averbeck is in his Fire on the Mountain studio carefully crafting a glass-blown vase, inspired by the Milky Way and Flagstaff’s famous starry skies. His wife, business partner and glass-blowing assistant that day, Holly, joins him to create a deeply meaningful original art piece that will bring awareness to the town’s clear view into deep space and the conservation efforts of the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition. On this morning, he announces how the sale of this vase will be a contribution to the Coalition and as a result, the protection of Flagstaff’s dark skies natural resource.

“I’m doing this for Chris,” said Averbeck, referring to Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition President Chris Luginbuhl, as he carefully moves the glowing chunk of glass out of the 960-degree oven, waves it in the air and coaxes it into a vessel by turning it across a countertop. Averbeck’s friendship with Luginbuhl goes back decades, as Luginbuhl arguably has been Flagstaff’s most vigilant dark skies warrior and Averbeck has been a constant force bringing attention to the beauty of the night through his talent and his store.

“George and Holly are well-known pillars of the community, always willing to help,” said Lowell Observatory historian Kevin Schindler. “George’s holiday ornament glass spheres sell in Lowell Observatory’s gift shop. He is famous for his popular ‘Blue Moons’ and ‘Pluto Balls’ that have become collectibles in this town that values ​​science and astronomy.”

Averbeck’s ornaments also are exhibited at the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Sedona Arts Center.

The glass-blowing process is a dance of sorts between the Averbecks. George expertly rolls the hot glowing glass across a pile of glass shards to create the swirling star cloud image of the Milky Way. Holly blows air into a long tube connected to the vase to provide volume. In about half an hour, the red glowing glass cools into a blue and silver showpiece. George places it into another oven where its form will solidify.

The couple participates each fall in the Coalition’s Celebration of the Night, a six-week season of activities promoting dark skies appreciation. Celebration of the Night runs from September through mid-October and offers the three-night Flagstaff Star Party – with an interactive Field Day this year – a Night Sky Photography workshop, a destination event at Arizona Nordic Village with legendary Egyptologist Zahi Hawass as the event’s Guest speaker this year for its debut, gallery exhibits and the Dark Skies Lecture Series at Lowell Observatory featuring National Geographic Explorer and cultural astronomer Bryan Bates, Coconino Astronomical Society astronomer Padraig Houlahan and USGS Astrogeology Science Center physical scientist Ryan Anderson this month.

The Averbecks and their retail gallery, Arizona Handmade, participate by creating a dark skies exhibit in their downtown shop, featuring local master artisans and their artistic expressions of the night. Also participating is the Artists’ Gallery on North San Francisco Street, across from Arizona Handmade and the Phoenix Avenue Gallery, owned by artist Frederica Hall, located on the corner of Beaver St. and Phoenix Ave.

For those interested in trying their skill at glass blowing, Averbeck is offering workshops this month, in which participants can create their own handblown glass ball ornament. The cost is $37 per person and includes the session and the glass ball that will be ready for pick up the next day. Workshops are scheduled for Oct. 29 and 30 and Nov. 5 and 12. For more information, visit azhandmade.com. To make your workshop reservation, stop by the gallery at 20 N. San Francisco St., or call 928-779-3790. FBN

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