Halfway Across the World: The Journey to Glass Education

Mia Esteban is an aspiring young glass artist from the Philippines. A hobbyist fashion designer, Mia was pulled in a new direction when a chance encounter introduced her to the world of glass. Armed with a passion for learning, Mia crossed the world this summer to begin her glass education at The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass, where she studied the theories and practices of flameworking and coldworking.

Mia Esteban practices flameworking at The Studio.

Before returning home, Mia was kind enough to join me for a conversation about her experience pursuing glassmaking, her plans for what’s next, and what motivates her to keep pushing forward.

“I’ve always been into the arts. I love everything about fashion. I still visit Vogue Runway to see the newest collections of every designer and what they’re taking inspiration from. But since there are so many people in the space, it’s so hard to differentiate yourself,” Mia said. “Because of that, I was in a conundrum where I didn’t know what my next steps should be. Then, I saw this piece by a designer brand called Coperni, and it was this glass bag. It was just art. It was so cool to see fashion expressed in a different medium. It was so new to me. I started researching glass, and I ended up becoming friends with Anna Orlina.”

In the Philippines, The Orlina family name is synonymous with glass art. Since the mid-1970s, Ramon Orlina has attracted international attention with his brilliant abstract sculptures. Today, his daughter Anna applies her own personal flair to build upon her father’s techniques.

“The thing is, there’s no glass education in the Philippines. That’s why I had to reach out to Anna. She had just released a new collection, all cold-worked. My father bought a piece from her. It was so coincidental, as I’d just seen that glass bag. We ended up having dinner. She told me about Corning, and because of that, I’m here now.”

Apart from some big names like the Orlina family, glass art is an unexplored medium in the Philippines. There are no glass schools, and glassmaking facilities are few and far between. Before taking the 36-hour journey to upstate New York, Mia had no experience working with glass. Instead, she found other ways to prepare.

Mia during her class at The Studio.

“Before glass, I did pottery and clay working. I thought it would be kind of similar, but it’s so different. Clay gives you time to think, like in coldworking, but in coldworking you’re starting with a block of glass and reducing. With clay, you’re building up from nothing, more like flameworking. It’s like a mix of both techniques, but also… not really. It’s definitely a whole new world.”

Mia studied both coldworking and flameworking during her time in Corning. Between the two, Mia discovered that she had a clear preference.

“I’m a clumsy person, and I’ve realized that I really cannot work with fire,” Mia said. “I like taking the time to plan things out before I do something, and that’s perfect for coldworking. With flameworking you just have to go with it, but with coldworking, you can always change direction. My coldworking teacher was Martin Rosol, and he’s amazing—the best! And his teaching assistant, Pavel Novak—so good! One of the things I learned from them is lenses. I love how the colors get sucked into the lens. Even if it’s just clear glass, it’s amazing. With different angles, you see it in a different way.”

Now that she’s had some training, I asked Mia about what comes next.

“I’ve been talking with Richard Whiteley (senior program manager at The Studio), trying to figure out my next steps beyond Corning as far as education. I can’t keep going back and forth between the Philippines and the States. It’s not just expensive, it’s hard. I really just want to stick to coldworking and kilnworking, but there are no long-term programs that are that tightly focused.”

In total, Mia’s trip to Corning amounted to an exhausting 36 hours of flights, drives, and layovers. For her, a regular commute to The Studio, or any school of glass, is completely infeasible.

“I hope that one day, there will be a long-term program where people can focus on only the technique they want to learn. That’s why I’m excited about StudioNEXT’s two-year program. You get to specialize. I’m really hoping that I’ll be ready to come back once the new studio is finished.”

Until then, Mia said, she’s so excited to get back home and keep researching.

Students at The Studio.

Inspired by Mia’s story? Visit The Studio, online or in person, to find out how you can start your glass education today!

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