Blazing Paddles offers unique art experiences

Guest post by Craig Coleman


In a warehouse space next to Rose Hill Cemetery, three local artists have been working diligently for the past few months to help bring business opportunities to Macon artists while also providing art experiences to the community at large. Bryan Beck, Yen-Ting Chiu, and Heather Jones have been chipping tile off the floor, removing drop ceilings, and taking down insulation, among other things, to get the space ready.

Thanks to their hard work, you can see the rails in the floor that reveal the history of the building to be the repair shop of the Macon Railway & Light Company, which operated Macon’s trolley cars from the 1910’s to the 1930’s. In the next chapter of the building’s history, the space will become the stARTup Studios, a cooperative art studio for emerging artist-entrepreneurs; a place for artists who are ready to build or expand their business without too much overhead.

Blazing Paddles owner and artist Bryan
Gathering glass out of the furnace, which holds 95 pounds of molten clear glass at a constant 2,100 F. Photo courtesy Blazing Paddles.

This renovation was set in motion after Bryan brought his glass blowing studio, Blazing Paddles Studio, to Macon almost a year ago. A native of Florida, Bryan moved to Macon from Carbondale, a small city in southern Illinois where he attended school.

Bryan explains that he chose to live in Macon because a college friend grew up here, and as a midway point between his family’s home in Florida and his school in southern Illinois, it was a natural waypoint for him to stop on his way back and forth.

“Over this time, my wife and I had noticed the changes taking place all over town, not just the restaurants and bars popping up but the various sculptures you can find all over the city, and art events which occur very often throughout each month,” he says. “We could really see the potential for a great art scene being developed and wanted to be part of that.”

Yen-Ting Chiu moved here from Carbondale, as well, and in May, she and Bryan were wed. She is currently the Artist in Residence at the studio. Originally from Taipei, Taiwan, she is an accomplished ceramicist who was part of the recent Fired Works exhibition held by Macon Arts. Her whimsical cat themed clay sculptures and functional pottery are made in her studio at the Blazing Paddles Showroom in between the times she spends teaching ceramic classes there.

Yen-Ting teaches a two-day clay animal sculpture course that is suitable for all interested members of the community, ranging from those who have no ceramics experience to skilled artists interested in practicing new techniques, and suitable for children ages 10 and up. The class teaches participants how to form and shape clay animal sculptures by hand using techniques that include coil and pinching. Students also will learn how to use color and various techniques for adding texture to bring their animals to life.

The clay animal sculpture course is six hours of hands-on instruction, beginning on Saturday, July 21st from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and concluding on Sunday, July 22nd, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Participants will leave their sculptures at the studio to be fired, a process which will take up to 14 days, and they will be notified when their creation is complete. The cost to participate includes instruction and materials. For one participant, the cost is $80.00. Two participants can attend together for $150.00, and three participants can attend together for $210.00. These classes are held at their showroom on 3890 Napier Avenue in Macon.

Helping a student shape glass object
Blazing Paddles owner and artist Bryan

On the Blazing Paddles Facebook page, Yen-Ting offers a variety of fun ceramics classes, where participants can make their own painted mugs and vases, adorable animal planters, and quirky little animal spoon rests. Different dates, times, and prices for each class (with specials for each additional participant who comes in with a group).

Through Blazing Paddles, Bryan offers classes which make glass blowing accessible to people who never imagined they could work with the medium of glass. He also makes and sells custom lighting, roundels for stained glass windows, functional glassware, and sculptural pieces.

Bryan teaches the Weekender Class every second and third weekend of every month. In this class, Middle Georgia residents have a unique opportunity to learn the art of glass blowing in intimate class sizes of only two to three participants. Participants can choose from a one-day class, which provides students with a three-hour introduction to working with solid glass, or a two-day class, which provides students with all of the instruction of the one-day class, plus an introduction to blown glass, where students will get to make their own handblown glass.

Students in the one-day class learn to create beautifully shaped paperweights, suncatchers, or other decorative items out of glass. Students can attend the one-day class on a Saturday or Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The two-day class is held on Saturday and Sunday, from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. on both days. Participants in the two-day class experience the art of shaping solid glass and they also will get to create blown glass items, such as a stemless wine glass, a vase, or a bowl.

Bryan teaches the participants in both classes how to use the basic tools and equipment needed to create objects from glass, which they will get to take home with them. The cost for the one-day course is $150, and the cost for the two-day course is $250. The next two weekends when classes will be offered are the weekend of July 14th and 15th and July 21st and 22nd. These classes are held at 3274 Liberty Church Road in South Bibb.

In August, Blading Paddles will be shut down while they transition into their new space at startup Studios, meaning that the July classes will be the last dates offered this summer. However, when they re-open in their new space, they will resume their course schedule. They hope to include additional learning opportunities, including advanced glass techniques like glass fusing, as well as more ceramics and pottery classes. They hope to add painting classes and other artistic media.

Bryan envisions the stARTup Studios as a place for people to come and see art being made, a place to learn about how artworks are crafted, and a place where community members can even try their hands at creating their own works of art. He hopes that it will become a hub for local artists to sell their work and a fun place to hang out and learn through events such as artist talks, monthly artists markets, classes, and an art camp for kids.

With Bryan and Yen-Ting, Middle Georgia residents already have the opportunity to experience two timeless art forms, glass crafting and ceramics, from artists who excel in their fields. Blazing Paddles is an incredible asset to our community.

Macon native, Heather Jones, will bring her creative business, Heather Margarete Design, to the new stARTup Studios space when it opens. Heather studied fashion design and fine art at Georgia Southern University and is currently enrolled in the Masters of Fine Arts graduate program at Jacksonville University.

Blazing Paddles Studio will open The stARTup Studios to the public this fall. Be sure to check the Blazing Paddles Facebook page for updates on their progress. Further information regarding events and upcoming classes at Blazing Paddles Studio can be found on their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/blazingpaddlesstudio/ or https://www.blazingpaddlesstudio.com.

Craig Coleman is a professor of art at Mercer University in Macon. He may be contacted at Coleman_c@mercer.edu.

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