"Blown glass is more attractive, more hygienic than plastic... and the crafting process is better for the environment."
"I work in blown glass. I'm an industrial engineer from Oaxaca. Originally, I planned to craft hand-blown bottles for our excellent mezcal. But the excitement of creative work was an experience that transformed me.
"I decided to focus on blown glass art, using recycled glass and creating job opportunities for others. In Mexico, there aren't any schools that teach hand-blown glass techniques. I had to take classes in New York. Thanks to a scholarship, I was able to stay for a year, of which I took advantage to learn different glass making techniques. I learned to be confident about molding and blowing a molten semi-liquid material. You have to work fast because, as the temperature drops, the elasticity of the molten glass lessens and it's not as easy to shape.
"After returning to Mexico in 2002, I decided to set up my own workshop. My family helped fund the construction of the kilns and pay for the initial materials. I also received financial assistance from the government.
"I am attracted to glass because it's transparent like water, but it's solid at the same time. It's transparent like ice when the sun shines through it, but doesn't melt. This quality makes it beautiful, whether in a drinking glass, as an architectural element, or as a work of art. It's a symbol of purity. Nature is my greatest source of inspiration — tree bark and flowers, with the textures, colors and shapes I'd like to express in glass.
"What I like the most about this art is watching people's reactions when they see how something once thrown away as garbage has been transformed into a beautiful and useful object. We purchase the glass from garbage collectors and sometimes people donate discarded glass for recycling. In addition, we rely on a renewable energy source. The cost of the gas that powers our kilns had gotten so high I was afraid I'd have to close the workshop. But we developed a way to recycle cooking oil, collected from local restaurants, to fire the kilns.
"I like knowing we are making a statement. I feel good knowing that each of our designs carries a message of sustainable art. It's satisfying to know that my work helps generate an income for my assistants, as well as for the people who bring me glass and for those who supply the used cooking oil. And it's great knowing that this oil is no longer ending up in city drainpipes!
"My greatest challenge is helping people understand the price of hand-blown recycled glass, the people and processes involved in each finished piece. It's so important to keep my ego from getting in the way. I am part of a team, and this knowledge helps us continue learning and growing in harmony.
"I'm fortunate to have a wonderful, close-knit team. Everyone is responsible and talented. They've learned a lot about glass, kilns and contributing ideas. Since 2007, I've been teaching courses in glass blowing and fusion. Some of the people I've taught help me teach classes, and this generates more income for them.
"If I could simplify what blown glass means to me, I'd say it's 'sustainable beauty.' People who buy our designs can enjoy their colors and transparency, but also the benefit of reusing unwanted glass and cooking oil as sustainable energy.
"Now that we've begun teaching others to recycle used cooking oil as a sustainable energy source, I hope people once again choose blown glass over plastic. It can be recycled again and again, it is more attractive, more hygienic, it benefits more people, and the crafting process is better for the environment."