The Glass Bubble Project
, a glass blowing studio and gallery in Ohio City that offers glass blowing classes, was established by Mike Kaplan in 1998, long before the arrival of the chic restaurants and trendy bars in the neighborhood.
For Kaplan, it’s easy to recall the days when Ohio City wasn’t the popular spot it is today: “I bought the building for $20,000 when it was still a pretty rough area,” he says. “There was project housing across the street and a dirt parking lot for the West Side Market.”
Over the course of 17 years, Ohio City has undergone dramatic change to become one of Cleveland’s hottest neighborhoods and the Glass Bubble Project continues to help keep it that way with amazing new projects.
Kaplan was a young hippie floating around before he decided to enroll in college courses at Kent State University, which is where he was first introduced to glass blowing. He went the pre-med route with a minor in glass blowing but later dropped out.
Kaplan instead began working for his dad at the family’s junkyard, but his desire to blow glass never left. Five years later, he bought the building in Ohio City with the goal of eventually opening up a glass blowing studio.
It took Kaplan two years to build the studio because, after only one year of actual glass classes at Kent, he never learned how to build and operate kilns and furnaces required for the art. So he had to teach himself.
The time it took Kaplan to teach himself and get the studio running seems well worth the effort – the Glass Bubble is now bustling with artists creating original works of art and with visitors stopping in to watch and shop.
Businesses and homeowners contract the Glass Bubble artists for various project. Kaplan and his team have created elegant chandeliers and rustic designs that can be enjoyed while dining at Dante
in Tremont, Stone Mad Pub
on W. 65th
Street or while staying in the Cleveland or Detroit Ritz-Carlton hotels.
To keep the shop teeming with new customers and students Kaplan has now decided to resume his education by attending classes at the Toledo Museum of Art, where he will learn about the art of Venetian cane pulling. He will learn how to pull and mold glass canes into double helixes.
“I’ve finally realized I could have learned how to blow glass even better if I stayed in school, so I’m trying to take more classes to expand my art,” Kaplan says.
For the first time ever, Kaplan began blowing glass outside this summer at the Great Lakes Medieval Faire
. “It was totally fun, people get really into it,” says Kaplan about the festival. “I thought the glass skulls and drinking horns would be popular but people liked the glass flowers and hearts more.”
Making his art outside seems like a nice fit for Kaplan, an artist who says nature is the main influence in his art. That influence becomes obvious as you walk around his studio and see Lake Erie driftwood mixed with glass chandeliers and wind chimes hanging from the ceiling.
Recycling is the second major influence in Kaplan’s work. “I grew up in a junkyard so I’m really into recycling and I’ve always considered it very important,” says Kaplan. “I learned you could buy recycled glass for cheaper so I just went with it.” Flea markets, thrift stores, and Lake Erie beaches are all sources he uses for his recycled materials.
The Glass Bubble Project has new designs by Kaplan and his partner, Chris Topher, called Forever Glass and Didymium glass. Forever Glass uses the cremated ashes of a loved one or family pet and places it inside a beautiful, custom glass piece. Kaplan says he’s attempted to get funeral homes interested in his design but will soon simply offer the commemorative art piece through their website.
Mike Kaplan of The Glass Bubble Project
Kaplan’s second new project involves seven tons of a type of glass called didymium that came from recycled GE light bulbs. “In sunlight the glass appears purple, but in the absence of ultraviolet light, the glass changes color so it looks blue,” he explains.
So far Kaplan and his team have created color-changing drinking glasses and are planning more designs that utilize the shifty glass.
Glass blowing classes are a popular activity at the Glass Bubble Project. As the weather gets cooler, the course selection almost doubles. September through May, the Glass Bubble offers an introductory class, a variety glass blowing class, and hand casting.
Year-round they offer welding classes, bead making, glass tile design and wind chime construction. Major companies like General Electric and Progressive have used their classes as team building exercises as well as a fun activity for summer campers, birthday parties, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They teach any age and any skill level in personal classes or groups.
If you try a class at the Glass Bubble, chances are you will be taught by Cyndi Davies, who has been an artist working with and apprenticing for Kaplan since January. Davies was previously homeless, but with the guiding help of Kaplan, she was given a chance to redefine her life as an artist working in the glass blowing studio.
“Instead of giving me change everyday on his way to work like most people, [Kaplan] said ‘why don’t you come work for me?’” Davies explains. “No one had given me an opportunity like that before.” She took Kaplan up on the offer and began working in the studio, quickly developing designs of her own including wind chimes and plant hangers. Her works are popular sellers. She also teaches classes regularly, gaining a deep knowledge of the art and incredible patience.
For those thinking about trying their hands at the art glass blowing, Kaplan says, “It’s stressful like a rollercoaster – scary and exciting at the same time.” The Glass Bubble Project is located at 2421 Bridge Avenue, Cleveland. They’re open 10 am-6 pm Monday through Saturday and occasionally on Sundays.