published Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Embedded: On the job with glass blower at Ignis Glass

  • photo
    Matt Thomas makes a glass flower at the Ignis Glass studio on Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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Name: Matt Thomas.

Age: 27.

Job: Glass blower at Ignis Glass Studio.

Years in the job: Seven.

Best part: “Because I love this so much, it’s not really a job.”

Worst part: “There’s not really a worst part. You get burned and it’s hot, but you don’t complain about that.”

There’s no blowing in glass blowing — all you need is a little puff.

“People don’t realize how soft the material is,” said professional glass blower Matt Thomas. “It’s not like a balloon. You don’t blow, you just puff your cheeks. It’s just heat and pressure. If it’s not hot enough, you can’t blow hard enough to make it happen.”

The 27-year-old earns his living as a glass blower for Ignis Glass Studio in downtown Chattanooga. A former engineering student, Thomas switched majors to study art after first encountering glass blowing in college, and he’s never looked back.

Now he spends his days pulling molten glass out of a 2,000-degree oven, spinning and shaping the glowing orange substance into vases, ornaments, figurines and flowers. The studio pays him by the hour to create the pieces that fill the studio’s shelves. Thomas also creates his own art but only gets paid if the piece sells.

“Because I have the bread and butter full-time job, I usually make more conceptual work, which tends to stay in my house for way too long,” Thomas said.

Ignis Glass Studio has been open in Chattanooga for 12 years and on Broad Street for six. About 75 percent of the studio’s revenue comes from hands-on ornament-making sessions with the public, said studio director Tommy Payne. Anyone can pay a flat fee for a chance to blow a round glass ornament — heavily assisted by Thomas, of course.

During the busy holiday season, as many as 120 people will make ornaments at the studio during a single day, Thomas said. In the summer that drops to around 20 a day.

There’s no air conditioning or heat in the studio. Thomas only knows of two glass studios in the world that do have central air. But Thomas enjoys glass blowing so much that he doesn’t mind the extreme temperatures.

“I love this,” he said. “On my days off I’d rather be here working.”

If you have an idea for Embedded, contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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