This article is part of a series of pieces called “Detours” designed to send you just a little off the beaten path from the beaches and attractions of St. Pete/Clearwater, to discover other, lesser-known local favorites like family-run stores, unique galleries, and tantalizing restaurants. Read on and take a Detour into authentic St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida!
Make a Memorable Souvenir at Zen Glass Studio
Let’s consider vacation souvenirs for a moment. Logo’d t-shirts, hats, trinkets and tchotchkes of all sorts. Question: When was the last time you wore that South Beach cap? Do you even know where it is?
What if, during your travels, you could have a truly unique experience and take away a special souvenir that you made—creating a real memory. And what if the thing you made was something you’d actually use?
Zen Glass Studio in St. Petersburg’s emerging arts district has the answers. Its popular wineglass workshops allow people to use a torch and tools to form molten glass into a colorful, one-of-a-kind wineglass stem. The Zen Glass staff then adds the bowl and base of your choosing, bakes it in a 1,050-degree kiln, cools it and makes it available for pickup the next day. If you don’t drink wine, or have so many wineglasses you wouldn’t know where to put another one, glass art rookies can make pendants, ornaments or other souvenirs instead.
“It’s not just about bringing home a wineglass,” says Josh Poll, who founded Zen Glass with his partner, Dave Walker, in 2002. “It’s about the experience of turning glass in a 4,000-degree flame, melting it into liquid, grabbing it with tongs, shaping it the way you want. It’s something people remember and tell stories about.”
The Glass Artists Behind Zen
Poll and Walker, both glass artists, first partnered up when they decided to split rent on a small studio space on a stretch of St. Pete’s Central Avenue that was mostly vacant. This was way before the city’s art renaissance.
They soon realized that creating and selling their own artwork wouldn't pay the bills, so Zen started teaching classes in glass art. “We became businessmen and entrepreneurs, as well as artists,” Poll says. They built a student roster, some of whom went on to become accomplished artists, but “what we didn’t have,” Poll explains, “was access to regular folks who might not consider themselves artistic but were looking for something engaging.”
Then, in 2010, an aha moment: wineglass workshops for anyone. The classes were a hit from the get-go, fueled by the rise of social media and e-commerce sites like Groupon.
In 2011, Zen Glass moved into its current location in a long-time industrial area. The studio/gallery now falls within St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District.
The Details on Glassblowing in St. Petersburg
The glassblowing endeavor takes about an hour. After a few basic pointers from the Zen folks, you grab your clear glass rods and get started. It’s not dangerous, and it’s not hard to do — although don’t expect to create a masterpiece the first time. The staff is on hand to assist, make suggestions or put on the finishing touches if you desire.
Best of all, stem-making is great fun — especially if you just relax and let it flow. And it’s safe to say that you’ll bring home something way cooler than a t-shirt.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Warehouse Arts District
Zen Glass is part of the city-designated, 12-by-16 block Warehouse Arts District, which offers group tours. The District is also a key part of the Second Saturday Art Walk, which runs from 5-9 p.m., and features trolley transportation.
Within Easy Walking Distance
Charlie Parker Pottery
Renowned clay artist Charlie Parker owns and runs this 3,600-square-foot studio, which offers a variety of pottery classes.
Duncan McClellan Studio
Owned by top glass artist Duncan McClellan, the 7,800-square-foot Duncan McClellan Studio has indoor and outdoor spaces, and features a large gallery presenting work from an array of artists, hosts regular events and education programs.
FunktionHouse: Urban Lumber & Furnishings
This innovative business gathers locally sourced trees, many of which were about to be destroyed, mills them into lumber, then designs and builds one-off furnishings from start to finish.