RIVER FALLS (AP) - Spencer Cleland says he's well beyond love when it comes to his feelings about glass.
The 28-year-old Mounds View native is studying the art of glassmaking at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, which has one of the oldest degree-granting glass programs in the country. There, a growing number of students are learning to melt, blow, mold and shape glass into sculptures as well as functional ware such as vases, bowls and drinking glasses, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
"This is my passion," said Cleland, who first picked up the art form at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. "I dream about it."
Cleland expects to graduate from UW-River Falls in May with a bachelor of fine arts degree with an emphasis in glass, and he credits the school for helping him take his art to the next level.
"We're not held back in the creative adventures that we want to pursue," Cleland said. "The combination of being free and being able to work hard on my technique is the biggest thing that has helped me here."
Program head Eoin Breadon has been a driving force by pushing him and other students to do "bigger and better things," Cleland said.
Breadon, an associate professor of glass, came to UW-River Falls in the fall of 2011. The program he leads is popular and growing, he said.
"I think a large part of it is the awareness and people rediscovering the art form," he said.
The glass program at UW-River Falls dates to 1967 -- just five years after UW-Madison started the first in the nation. While the art form has grown, there are still few colleges in Minnesota and Wisconsin that offer glass-blowing programs, Breadon said.
Students who complete the program can end up in a broad range of careers relating to glass. Some create works for galleries or museums, while others work in design, architecture or science fields.
Cleland said he plans to earn a master's degree in the art and go into teaching.
"It's a very exciting art form," he said. "We get to be involved in every bit of the process -- from the melting of the glass to the working of the glass to cold-working it."
Using materials that can reach about 2,000 degrees brings an element of danger that adds to the excitement, Cleland said, calling working with glass "a wonderful treat and highly addictive."
The process begins with melting glass pieces to a honey-like consistency, Breadon said. The glass then can be blown and shaped, with continuous reheating required to keep the material above 1,500 or 1,600 degrees throughout the process.
The piece is then put into a kiln that gradually lowers the temperature of the glass to reduce stress and prevent cracking.
"To me, it is a fascinating process," Breadon said. "It's a very intense method of working -- you can't start and stop. When you start something, you have to work through until it's finished, and I really appreciate that."
The public can see and buy glass works from UW-River Falls students during a sale 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 29 and 30 at the school's University Center. Proceeds will benefit art programming at the university and River Falls High School.
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