Touring Pumpkins and More at Louisville Glassworks

October is almost upon us, which means only one thing: it’s Pumpkin Season. Formerly known as Fall, Pumpkin Season is that love-it-or-hate-it time of the year when blonde girls get really giggly over pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, bearded guys in flannel get excited about pumpkin craft beers, and the rest of us cheer over finally feeling relief from the gross, sticky heat of summer.

Last Saturday, I came across my first pumpkin patch of the season in the most unexpected of places: Louisville Glassworks.

There they were, a few dozen glass pumpkins of all different sizes and colors, displayed across on crate inside the storefront of Flame Run, one of the two glass studios inside the Glassworks building, their twisted stems and the curves of their stout little squash bodies reflecting the lights above them. I didn’t have a 5-year-old around to test this on, but I’m relatively certain I could have tricked one into believing these things were real miniature pumpkins that had been turned to glass by some classier Medusa who’d upgraded her powers. Either way, the glass pumpkins were just one of the amazing pieces of art featured in the studio’s store. Another highlight is a giant glass Lego man who has been tied up by real Lego men. (Who says glasswork has to be highbrow?)

For those of us who never got past Art 101, it might be difficult to fathom how these pieces came to be. The concept of melted glass and using air to shape it sounds simple enough in theory, but how do you get all those pumpkin grooves to look symmetrical? And where’s the color come from?

Luckily, you don’t have to answer any of these questions for yourself, because every Saturday Louisville Glassworks offers guided tours that take you to Flame Run and the Mark Payton Glass Studio. (Self-guided tours are also available, though as a general rule I always recommend choosing the option with the real-life human around so you can ask follow-up questions and hear off-the-cuff comments.)

The tour begins at Flame Run, which is the studio people may be more familiar with because it’s a glass-walled studio is viewable from the street. It takes you to a viewing area above the studio so you can get a bird’s-eye view of whatever the glassmakers are working on. The guide explains the process, which involves tubes and rods and furnaces and a lot more time than I realized. On the day I went, they were making pumpkins and what looked like a drinking glass. After watching 20 minutes of work, one of my fellow tour-goers commented, “No wonder everything costs a lot.” He was right. You learn to appreciate the costs of glasswork once you’ve seen how much craftsmanship and care goes into it.

For me, the best part of the tour is its second half, which takes you to the Mark Payton Glass Center. Located a level above Flame Run, adjacent to Glasswork’s gorgeous industrial event space, the Mark Payton Glass Center offers a much more intimate viewing experience. You are able to fit a few feet away from the artists, separated only by some safety glass.

The processes between the studios contrast and complement one another well. While Flame Run had giant furnaces and molten glass in globs, Payton used an intense torch that could shoot flames as hot as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit to melt and shape the glass into the shapes he needs. During my tour, the self-taught namesake of the studio walked us through his process of making a snowball ornament. Meanwhile, another artist worked on a tiny dancing elf ornament. My group sat in awe at the precision it requires to dot the tiny eyelashes onto a snowman’s head in order to achieve a specific emotion, or swirl melting glass into tiny feet only a few centimeters long.

After the official tour ends, guests are welcome to stay at the studio and continue watching as long as they like. There’s also a hallway that details the history of glass, which might teach you a thing or two.

Finally, for those who feel truly inspired by either leg of the Glassworks tour, both studios offer hands-on activities for an additional cost. The Mark Payton Glass Center offers a walk-in workshop and appointment-based one-on-one workshops with Payton himself. Both activities, which the center describes as “edutainment,” are appropriate for almost all ages (5 and up). Meanwhile, Flame Run offers glassblowing classes and seminars by appointment.