Glassblower’s DIY Studio is Literally the Bomb

Kristen Muñoz cools off in the shadow of her blazing gas furnace.
Photo by Jack Sorokin

A decade ago, Kristen Muñoz of Moongirl Glass moved from Austin, Texas, to Marshall, North Carolina. After attending Penland School of Crafts, she used salvaged materials to construct a unique, energy-saving glassblower’s furnace. Her kiln is made from a defunct freezer, and her functional glass art is made from quartz mined locally in Spruce Pine. 

Spruce Pine quartz is considered the purest in the world, vital to the production of the global supply of computer chips. Muñoz says it produces no bubbles and has a gooey consistency that allows a longer working time.

Photo by Jack Sorokin

What attracted you to glassblowing?

Glassblowing is badass. You use all the elements — fire, breath, earth, and water. Glass is a liquid and a solid; transparent but reflective. Glassblowing is physical, like a Zen dance. It’s addictive. And I want to show my kids that you can make a living doing something that gives you and others great joy. I want them to think, “Mom’s a badass.”

You must be if you built your own furnace.

While pregnant. Within nine months, I built a baby and a glass studio. I had to learn plumbing and electricity. And building a glass furnace is like building a bomb. A lot can go wrong. Firing it up the first time was really scary.

Isn’t that why you call the gas company?

I did. But the gas guys had never seen a glass furnace. They said, “What is this thing? Where’d you find those parts?” I said the scrap yard. They were like, “Oh, great. Well, good luck with that! See ya.” One time, in the beginning, the furnace was smoking and I called my friend. He said, “I can’t help. I’m too scared. But I will call and check on you later.” 

To see if you’re blown to smithereens?

(Laughter) Exactly. That’s a real friend. I knew I had to empty the furnace so I grabbed a metal barrel filled with water and was dumping big ladles of molten glass into it. But the barrel started leaking. Now it’s three in the morning and I’m standing in a puddle of …who knows what?

Photo by Jack Sorokin

Homebrewed lava is what.

I had to rebuild the furnace and fix the faulty recuperation system. But that system reduced my gas bill by half. 

Wow.

It’s expensive to run a hot shop. When the furnace is on, the pressure is on. If you aren’t making anything sellable, you’re screwed. The first few years I would make lots of product, until I was broke and the gas company cut me off. Then I’d go sell for a few months. 

Photo by Jack Sorokin

That’s dedication.

Somehow it all worked out, because that gave me exactly the amount of time I needed to teach myself and practice. Before I only knew how to make balls. Now I make cups, bowls, large vases, these sexy-looking genie bottles, all kinds of things.

Raising two kids, when do you find studio time?

I like to cook glass late at night; it’s so quiet and peaceful. But after you make a piece, it’s too hot to hold and look at. So for me every day is like Christmas, to go see what’s there from the night before. 

he glass artist makes “sexy-looking genie bottles,” vases, and other functional beauties.
Photo by Jack Sorokin

Kristen Muñoz, Moon Girl Glass at Morning Star Studios, Marshall. Muñoz’s work is available at Appalachian Craft Center (10 North Spruce St., Suite 120, Asheville, appalachiancraftcenter.com) and at Twigs & Leaves Gallery (98 North Main St., Waynesville, twigsandleaves.com). See also moongirlglass.com, Morning Star Studios on Facebook, @munozkristen on Instagram, and Moon Girl Glass on YouTube. For information about studio classes and demonstrations, call 828-713-2019 or e-mail moongirlworks@yahoo.com.

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