Fired Up Belger Glass Annex aims to create a community of glassblowers in Kansas City


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Image credit above: A look inside one of three Belger Glass Annex reheating furnaces, which burn at over 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo | Jim Barcus)

Last October, Mary Touch scratched her artistic itch when she took an introductory glassblowing class at the Belger Glass Annex.

The technology strategy consultant said she “felt an itch, that she needed to express herself creatively in the times we live in now. The course sparked something in me. I didn’t stopped. I started taking courses in torch work with glass. Now I would say that I really consider myself an artist.

Touch’s experience aligns with the goals of the folks at Belger Glass Annex, who hope to ignite Kansas City’s artistic glassmaking potential.

“This is the first public glassblowing studio of this scale in Kansas City,” said Katie Hogan, manager of Belger Glass Annex. “We hope the introduction of this space will help Kansas City become more of a glass hub in the Midwest. There are big studios in St. Louis, Chicago, and Denver, but Kansas City had nothing like it.

The Belger Glass Annex, located at 1219 E. 19th St., went live with a soft opening last summer and a grand opening on October 30. The building once housed a crane maintenance facility, and before that it was a paper wax and label manufacturing site. Its high ceiling, concrete slab floor and garage doors provide an ideal setting for a well-ventilated glass studio.

The building’s transformation marks another successful reuse of an aging urban core structure. Located between the Crossroads Arts District and the 18th & Vine Historic District, the neighborhood is also home to the Belger Crane Yard Studios.

Evelyn Craft Belger, executive director of Belger Arts, said the Belger Glass Annex aims to expand arts education in Kansas City. “We hope to teach people a skill or an art form that they may not have. We hope we will create a community of glassblowers in Kansas City.

Belger noted that her husband, Dick Belger, focused on Tiffany glass and French cameo art glass when he began assembling his art collection. “Dick wanted to make glass before we did ceramics, but the buildings that were available here at that time didn’t really lend themselves to making glass. We rely on the history of Belger Cartage Service. As these buildings cease to be useful for crane rigging and storage operations, we wanted to bring something creative to the Kansas City community and bring these old buildings and this neighborhood back to life.

Belger partnered with renowned glass artist Tyler Kimball to plan and launch the Glass Annex. Kimball has worked with glass as his primary medium since 1999. He has been an instructor, guest artist, and artist-in-residence at educational glass facilities around the world.

Tyler Kimball, head of the Glass Annex department, “flashes” a piece of glass before putting it in an oven to cool for 28 hours. (Photo | Jim Barcus)

Kimball nurtured the Kansas City area glass art community as founder/owner of Monarch Glass Studio. As head of the glass department of the Belger Arts Center, he built all the equipment for the glass annex.

Kimball was born and raised in Kansas City. Devotion to his craft and his hometown brought him back here in 2014. “It was a mission for me to come back to Kansas City and open a studio that would allow me to work on my work and also educate community and build community. of people who wanted to know more about glass,” he said.

But after a while, Kimball became so busy with his own glasswork that he had to cut classes at Monarch. “So I reached out to Evelyn, who was about to open a glass studio. The timing was perfect.”

Glass studios are difficult to create, Belger said. ” They are expensive. It’s not like you can do it with a wheel and an oven. There is much more than that.

The Belger Glass appendix includes specialized equipment, such as annealers, which slowly cool hot glass objects after they are formed to eliminate the stresses created during the glass blowing process.

Kimball has worked in 59 glass studios. “Every time I work at a different studio, I look at the equipment and what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “That’s what made me capable of crafting the equipment.”

Making glass feels and feels like hard work for someone like this writer, who has never done it. Belger said glass artists working together on a project plan their moves. “It’s a choreography. They have to decide who is going to do what movement at what phase of the project and be able to communicate without words.

Kimball said it takes finesse and “just knowing the heat of the glass, being one with the glass.”

Kristopher Dabner, a hobbyist who rents space at the Belger Glass Annex, said, “It’s kind of a working meditation for me. When you’re working with hot glass, you have to focus on that and really can’t think of anything else. You need to continually think about what step you are working on now and what you need to put in place now in the glass that will make a difference to the final outcome of the piece.

Remove excess glass after coating colored glass with clear oven glass.
Remove excess glass after coating colored glass with clear oven glass. (Photo | Jim Barcus)

The facilities at Belger Glass Annex are “top notch,” Dabner said. “They have everything you need to create just about anything you want.”

Consuelo Cruz, director of marketing and community engagement for Belger Cartage Service and affiliates, said students come to the Glass Annex from “all the range. We have people who are new to glass, we have people who maybe have a little more experience and want to deepen their experience. We have people who are involved in different art forms and want to explore something new that could play into what they already do. We have ceramic artists at Belger Crane Yard Studios who were eager to come to the Glass Annex to see how things work.

Belger Glass Annex offerings include a work-study program, in which participants help out in the studio in exchange for course credit.

A “Glass 2” higher level class started in February. By the end of 2022, the Glass Annex plans to add a “cold workshop”, in which glass objects are finished with methods such as carving or polishing.

The cold studio will also offer classes. “You can use your blown work as a canvas for cold work,” Kimball said.

Belger is proud that she and Kimball have created something unique in Kansas City, but she looks forward to the day the Belger Glass Annex loses that distinction.

“I hope more glass studios will come here,” she said. “As they grow and it settles down, more and more studios will open here and they’ll bring more and more artists to Kansas City. I’ve seen in other cities that it’s growing much faster than expected. I bet in five years you won’t believe what’s going on here.

The Belger Glass Annex, 1219 E. 19th St., is open by appointment. To schedule a visit, email [email protected] For more information, 816.474.7316 or

Flatland contributor Julius A. Karash is a Kansas City-based writer.

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