Husband and wife embrace "edutainment" of glassblowing at Chrysler art museum

Hundreds of eyes focus on the front of the Chrysler’s Cutting Edge Glass Studio, unmoving. Julia Rogers masterfully shapes glass, displaying years of honed art practice for the audience in a daily lunch-time demonstration.

She controls the rod with ease — carefully crafting the molten-hot blob, wielding metal tools of all shapes and sizes. Soon, five pink, white speckled petals drip their way onto the blob, and eventually harden into an orchid. Audience members lean in, trying to glimpse the flower. The room is small but the effect is massive.

“It’s like moths to a flame, people are just drawn to it,” said Robin Rogers, Julia’s husband, after the demonstration.

The Rogers have been working at the Chrysler Museum of Art’s studio since it opened in 2007.

“Glass is all about teamwork — it’s like a dance,” Julia said. “You both might know how to dance, but maybe only one of you knows how to tango, so you work together to get the steps.”

For someone who was once terrified of public speaking, Julia said that entrancing the audience as she creates her art is the best part of the job.

“It's really opened me to enjoy interacting with people,” she said with a smile.

Robin and Julia met in Montana while working at a glass production studio. They married in 2004. Leaving Montana in 2008, they headed to Bowling Green, Ohio, then Detroit in 2010, finally settling in Norfolk a year later.

Robin took the position as studio technician and assistant manager, and Julia taught classes at Virginia Wesleyan University and Tidewater Community College, instructing public classes and demonstrations.

“We were here even before the studio opened, the longest out of any of the glassblowers,” Robin said.

Robin now is the studio manager and programming director. Even though they’re raising a family and have become an even bigger part of the studio, the couple still produces their own glass sculptures, sometimes collaborating, sometimes not. They’ve put together collections that reflect different viewpoints of the world. Some involve personified animals, several illustrate colorful human heads busting open to an interior of dazzling glass geodes, and some heads transforming into architecture.

“If they have more of a business perspective of the world, then there’s a skyscraper coming out of the head, if they think more spiritually then a steeple would come out of the head,” Julia said of the glass figures.

Along with demonstrations the studio, the couple teach classes during the weekdays and weekends. Every third Thursday of the month, Robin helps host glassblowers who perform demonstrations, like "Alice in Reggaeland," "Godzilla Goes to the Beach" and "Snowman Meltdown Extravaganza."

The week of July 19, the Jamestown glass blowers presented the “Wheel of Misfortune.”

“They made a hard thing harder,” Robin said of the glassblowers with a laugh.

The “wheel of misfortune” added difficulties that the glassblowers of colonial Jamestown experienced. During the demonstration, the wheel landed on weather. The audience picked up water guns, firing on the demonstrators as they tried to blow glass.

When they were starting out, neither Robin nor Julia predicted a career organizing this type of event.

Julia said she hadn't seen glassblowing until she was 21.

“I was majoring in art and took a semester off to go snowboarding in central Oregon,” she said. “I met a glassblower and he invited me to his production studio, and I ended up quitting school to go into glass production for five years.”

Robin's path was a little different.

“Some of my friends were taking glass classes in high school, so I always knew about it,” Robin said.

He began glass blowing a year earlier than most students attending Columbus College of Art and Design. Flash forward several years and Robin and Julia are raising a family and enjoy "edutaining" Norfolk locals and visitors with glassmaking.

The Rogers said they still find themselves learning. They said they also know skill and difficulty draw people in. The average person doesn’t go into one class and come out with even the basics mastered.

“To make a cup, you could learn how to make a cup in a weekend class with a lot of teaching and help, but then when you try to go and make it on your own, it’s not as easy,” Robin said. “It could take years to make a perfectly straight glass.

“It’s like playing an instrument. Some people are musical and some people are like ‘I’ve got no rhythm.’”