The Windy City’s heart of glass

By HermineBloom

An empty, seemingly useless beer bottle tossed onto the curb the morning after a debaucherous evening is the means with which 33-year-old Nick Paul makes a living. Instead of ending up in a landfill, the bottle is heated, melted and molded as if it were clay or paint on a canvas.

After being laid off from his job of nine-and-a-half years as head designer for Dimension Craft, an exhibit design company, Paul decided to pursue his hobby of glassblowing, which subsequently led to creating an online store where he sells unique glassware by repurposing beer bottles. With the money he saved from his Etsy sales, he purchased a portion of Chicago Hot Glass, 1250 N. Central Park Ave—the only public glassblowing studio in the city.

Founded in 2001, the studio teaches students about glassblowing, glass fusing, kiln forming and glass torch working, as well as serves as a public space for professional artists and engineers to work on their specific glass arts projects.

“To everyone that comes in and talks about the bottles, I say, ‘This is just one of the things we do around here at Chicago Hot Glass as well as all these other things,’” Paul said.”There’s nothing like us in

the Midwest.”

At any given time, about 15 to 30 people are working in the studio, according to 32-year-old resident artist and glass arts instructor Pearl Dick.

Dick began working on figurative glass sculptures about six years ago in Chicago after attending Alfred University in New York. She now teaches glassblowing classes for beginners and advanced artists at Chicago Hot Glass, along with an after-school art program for high school students in the city.

Using glass as an art medium appeals to a certain individual who likes to be challenged, Dick said.

“There’s certainly a lot to be said about the process itself,” she said. “It’s very much a physical medium. You’re using your whole body when you work with this material.”

Likewise, Paul’s unique glassware requires time and energy as the artistic process is tedious. By either scouring the streets, asking his friends or going to bars, Paul procures the bottles, he said. Then the bottles are washed and placed into an annealing oven, or a furnace used by glassblowers to eliminate stresses created in glassware. The oven is set to 1,100 degrees and left to sit for 30 minutes. Paul then dips a large, metal rod into a molten pot of glass in order to create what’s called a punti to provide a handle for the object being made. The punti touches the bottom of the bottle and the whole semi-formed bottle is transferred into a furnace used to melt the glass called the glory hole furnace. Once the glass begins to melt, he uses a special tool called jacks to open the bottle up and create a cylinder in the shape of a cup. It is left to cool for a 24-hour period.

Due to the amount of steps it takes to make the finished product, Paul said he tries to make at least 60 or 70 bottles at one time. In fact, when he’s working at Chicago Hot Glass, he performs these tasks every

three minutes.

While Paul and the many artists who take glassblowing classes or work on their individual projects at Chicago Hot Glass are quite fond of repurposing the material, city dwellers and establishments are quick to throw away their used glass instead

of recycling.

Recycle Plus, 1334 N. Kostner Ave., is a small company that provides a recycling service for businesses such as schools

and synagogues.

“We work with people who can’t produce that much but still want to recycle, so therefore we serve a niche,” said Gary Zuckerman, founder of Recycle Plus.

Bottles that aren’t recycled in Chicago end up in a landfill and can take up to a million years to break down, he added. Though the bottles are not as harmful as batteries, paint or microwaves, for example, glass recycling is important because it saves energy. Glass, as a material, is sustainable by nature, meaning it never loses quality.

In order to make new glass, sand and various substances are heated to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit, which requires a lot of energy and creates industrial pollution, Zuckerman explained. Reusing glass as opposed to purchasing more glass means less energy is exerted in the long run.

Glass, unlike plastic or metal, is a fairly stable material in terms of its value.

“When it hits a certain price, it stays there for a while,” Zuckerman said. “Recycling glass needs to be subsidized by the state so that more people will do it.”

Though people who work at Chicago Hot Glass are reusing and recycling by definition, Paul said he describes his work as “problem solving.”

“I’m an advocate for the do-it-yourself movement,” Paul said. “We have this excess material and trash that’s lying around in our environment and we’re basically just finding another use for it.”

For more information about Chicago Hot Glass, visit To purchase Nick Paul’s work, visit