A punty is the long iron rod a glassmaker uses to gather molten glass with. Punty is short for pontil. Pontil is a French word that was derived from the Italian word puntello which can be traced back to the Latin word punto.
Phew. I just covered a few hundred years of history there. For reference, you too will learn this if you call your punty “a stick” in front of someone who regularly works with glass. Wait. What? You read that right. I referred to my punty as “a stick” while I was making glass with a very kind and talented man named Kurt, who chuckled a bit when I called it “a stick”. After he explained that it’s a punty, which is short for pontil, he laughed again and said: “But my wife still calls it a stick.”
This was just one of the many things I learned in the thirty minutes I spent with Kurt at my Make Your Own Glass Experience in The Studio at The Corning Museum of Glass.
The first lesson Kurt and I embarked on was learning the proper way roll the punty to keep the glass from falling. I watched as Kurt took his seat at the glassmaker’s bench. I listened intently as soon it would be me sitting in the same place. He explained how I was going to use the whole flat of my hand from the bottom of my palm to the tips of my fingers when I rolled the punty along the rails of the bench. Step by step Kurt showed me exactly what I was going to do. In no time at all he had produced a lovely clear glass flower with a curly stem.
As I looked on, utterly enamored with the entire process, Kurt explained that I would have to wait to take my flower home with me. He said that if the glass cooled too soon, it would crack. With that he dipped the edge of his flower, still growing from the end of the punty, into a small bucket of room temperature water to the side of his bench. I heard a simultaneous sizzle and snap. When Kurt lifted the flower from the water the glass had gone from clear to a milky white, the result of thousands of small fissures caused by the 2100 degree glass meeting the room temperature water.
As I took my seat at the bench, a feeling of excitement gripped me and I was completely immersed in Kurt’s world. He set the pontil down across the rails and suddenly, it was my turn. I nervously tried to recall everything Kurt had just told me. Afraid of letting my blue glass fall, I quickly rolled the punty under my palm. Kurt could see I was moving faster than the glass required me to and said “Let gravity work with the glass.” Good advice. As soon as I slowed down, the glass began to take the shape we were looking for.
Kurt and I also decided that hot glass feels very much the same way that saltwater taffy does when you pull it. There is one big difference though, and that is that you can use your bare hands when pulling taffy. The same can’t really be said for molten glass. Kurt showed me how to use the largest pair of tweezers I’ve ever seen to pull the hot glass formed into what soon began to resemble petals. Before I knew it, Kurt was expertly pulling my flower, like taffy, away from the punty to create the stem. He then had me roll the punty as he pulled to form the curls in the stem of my flower. And just like that, I was done.
As I remarked to Kurt about what a fantastic experience this was and how I was a little sad for it to be over so soon, he said something so very timely and profound. He said: “Nothing keeps us in the present like glass.” As a medium ever in motion, he couldn’t be more right. Perhaps that is why I felt so at home during my Make Your Own Glass session. For those thirty minutes I forgot about everything else that was in motion around me and focused on the punty under my palm, the gravity, and the glass.