Because some groups aren’t content to watch from the sidelines, several Grand Central destinations offer unique hands-on, interactive experiences.
Whether it’s digging through Arkansas mud in search of precious stones and diamonds, or playing with fire and blowing hot glass to create pieces of art, groups will head home from these travels with more than just memories.
More Than Lemons
Since April Lemon discovered glassblowing later in life, she can commiserate with first-timers.
“It’s difficult to control,” Lemon said, as she described how she sculpts 2,100-degree molten glass into works of art. “You have to think three steps ahead. It’s a rub-your-stomach and pat-your-head kind of thing.”
The mother of seven earned her degree in glassblowing last year, and shortly after, she and her husband, John, opened More Than Lemons glassblowing studio on the square in Holton, Kansas.
The couple enjoys simplifying the process for groups interested in making pieces of their own. Customers choose from among several project options and blow the hot glass through a long hollow rod as it comes from the furnace while Lemon uses several tools to manipulate and shape it. Along with the glass piece, customers receive an action shot of them working on the project.
Groups that want to get their hands on the tools of the trade have the option of making paperweights. In that scenario, they get to choose the colors and shape the glass. If anyone is worried about the heat, Lemon has cold-glass projects she can suggest.
Lemon is open to trying anything customers can imagine. Groups of 20-somethings enjoy making beer mugs; other groups request bowls, vases, cups and ornaments. But it’s the kids who get really creative.
“A 5-year-old got me started on making Christmas trees,” Lemon said. “They come in and are very specific about what they want. I made a blue ice cube pumpkin with a pink stem for a 4-year-old.”
While waiting their turn, group members can take a look around the mini gallery where Lemon sells work by 21 other artists, everything from glass to furniture to photography.
Third Degree Glass Factory
St. Louis, Missouri
With three unique studios featuring flame working, kiln working and glassblowing, Third Degree Glass Factory is the busiest artisan glass center in the Grand Central region. Roughly 25 St. Louis artists and several visiting artists share the warehouse and offer mesmerizing demonstrations year-round.
“What you’re experiencing is live production,” said Third Degree communications director Nick Dunne. “You get to see the artist’s personal style in action.”
The artists also welcome groups of beginners into their warehouse on Delmar Boulevard and provide instructions and tools for creating glass beads, tiles, paperweights and seasonal projects like pumpkins and ornaments. Groups can also request team-building projects; for example, each visitor can make a glass tile for a collaborative glass quilt.
Each project includes different tools. The production of glass beads, for instance, includes melting down a glass rod through a torch and wrapping it around a thin metal bar to create the center. Eight beads take nearly an hour to complete. Whatever the process, artists are on hand to show the way.
“It’s very inviting because we want to share our knowledge with the public,” said Dunne, adding that Third Degree draws 30,000 visitors annually. “Everybody seems intimidated at first, but once you get your hands on it, it becomes very addicting.”
On top of demonstrations, which are suitable for up to 40 people, and guided activities, Third Degree offers guided tours of the whole facility. The tour includes all three studios plus the spectacularly decorated bathrooms with colorful, twisting blown-glass faucets and ceilings made of melted-down perfume bottles.
For groups wanting to get the most out of the experience, Dunne suggests combining a project or a demonstration with the full tour.
An added bonus for groups is that Third Degree is sandwiched between two major St. Louis destinations: the Central West End, packed with upscale galleries and delicious food, and the Delmar Loop, one of America’s most famous streets.