Franklin Glassblowing Studio: Jose Santisteban

Guests crowd around an open furnace, necks craned toward the rod that Jose Santisteban has plunged into a burning fire. The heat radiates back onto the group as he slowly twists the stem, a small blob of molten glass connected at the end. When he finishes, he’ll roll in colored shards that meld with the form before creating a bubble with short, powerful breaths through a tube.

It’s the first Friday of the month, and Santisteban is entertaining the Franklin Art Scene crowd with demonstrations of his craft. The process involves heating, spinning, blowing and twisting, adding different layers and details until the work is ready for its cool-down in the specialized kiln. It’s a fascinating process, and watching him in motion, it’s evident that this is what Jose loves to do.

“Literally the first day working with glass, I knew it was what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” he said. “It took twelve years working in glass to make a career out of it.”

Santisteban has studied his art in Washington, New York, Alabama and Italy, but he hasn’t always realized his talent for creating meaningful works.

He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in literature and philosophy, and it wasn’t until he moved to Seattle that his love for glass was ignited.  There, he studied the techniques of craftsman Dale Chihuly, honing the passion and developing his talent.

A year later, he was accepted into the prestigious master’s program at the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology’s School of American Crafts. There, he learned how to express his inspirations and observations through other media, including lampworking, engraving and Pate-de-Verre.

“All I wanted to do was blow glass, but the professors there encouraged me to explore other techniques—fusing and casting and stained glass, and working with the torch,” he said. “My objectives changed, and with that maturity came opportunities.”

He learned lost wax casting and began working with Pyrex at the torch to create beautiful wine goblets and intricate wall sconces. Next was a stop on the island of Venice, where he gleaned from centuries of knowledge what made Murano glass Italy’s most valuable export, then a period in a Birmingham, Ala.-based production studio.

Now, after years of transience and polish, Santisteban is back in his native town, paying it forward. Franklin Glassblowing Studio—located by the Bunganut Pig in Carter’s Court—holds a gallery of his own work, filling the room with his genius. Though the space showcases his smaller pieces, Santisteban is often commissioned to fashion elaborate work, like a massive Venetian chandelier or an abstract sculpture.

In the studio on Columbia Avenue he also holds introductory workshops, where beginners can address basic skills and make their own ornaments, paperweights and cylinders. He’s even taught advanced courses for college-level art students.

And while there are other shops in the area that sell blown glass, Santisteban’s may be the only one that encourages passers-by to peek in and see the artist at his craft. The door is usually propped open, pulling in curious diners from the Pig.

“A lot of people have never seen this before, so it’s cool to have them observe,” he said.

Though he’s traveled the world, gathering inspiration from different cultures and nature environments, Santisteban said he’s back in Franklin because it has roots.

“I came back for my family,” he said. “I’ve been a lot of places to learn, but this has always felt like home.”

For more information, visit the studio’s website at www.franklinglassblowingstudio.com.

This is part of a series on merchants in Downtown Franklin that is published each Thursday in the Williamson Herald.