Releasing a cloud of steam in the chilly December air, Jason Mack pours liquefied glass onto a spinning, metal frame to create branches and needles for his latest project: the world’s largest glass Christmas tree.
Mack, with four assistants, is building the tree and spreading holiday cheer on a lot in Champaign, Ill. Made from steel and recycled glass, the tree will measure 31 feet in height with a circumference of 52 feet at the base and weighing in at approximately two tons. Mack’s goal is to beat the current world record held by a 27.5-foot glass tree in Italy.
View photos of the sculpture.
Mack said building the sculpture on-site provides a great way to bring his work out of the studio and contribute to the life of the community.
“I like breaking the mold of glassblowers working and laboring over a piece of art in a studio and then bringing the finished project to the world,” he said. “I’m not as interested in selling objects as I am in projects that involve the community and bring people together.”
Mack is using glass collected from on-site donations during the construction. Melted at a temperature of 2,300 degrees in Mack’s mobile glass furnace, the liquefied result then is poured onto a spinning, metal frame to form the tree’s branches and needles.
The build attracted hundreds of attendees opening weekend and the team received approximately 2,000 pounds of donated glass, more than half of what they need to complete the tree, Mack said.
“The response from the community was great,” he said. “They were in awe. I’m the only person in the world doing anything like this—driving around with a 2,000-degree furnace behind my truck and building a record-setting tree from recycled glass.”
While using recycled glass helps to fulfill a need in the community to dispose of used items, Mack said he also enjoys the idea of the history of his material.
“I like materials that are honest, not fabricated,” he said. “We might get in a dirty jar with baby food or pasta sauce; each item used for a utilitarian purpose then sat in someone’s home till they brought to the site. Every bottle has a story behind it. Even if it’s not an important story, it still becomes part of our work.”
Mack added that there are many characteristics of glass that draw him to working with the substance.
“There is no other material like it,” he said. “The properties are so unique, but it’s also so ubiquitous. It’s in everyone’s home and a part of everyone’s life. Often, it’s just a waste product, but when you change its state, people become mystified by it. Another thing I love about working with glass is that there is an element of organized chaos to it. There is an order to the process, but there also is some randomness.”
The site of his Christmas tree project also features a gift shop selling hand-blown miniature trees and ornaments. Gift shop proceeds benefit Mack’s ultimate goal of building a glass forest constructed of recycled glass.
Mack, a native of Glen Ellyn, earned his Associate in Fine Arts degree at College of DuPage. He currently teaches glassblowing classes in the Urbana-Champaign area.
Mack said he credits his time at COD with nurturing his exploration of art.
“I had a great experience at COD,” he said. “The skill level and experience of teachers in the Art program were top notch. I felt well prepared when I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Illinois State University in 2007. At COD, I met one of my most influential teachers from my college career as a whole, John Calimee. He taught me that, at its core, art is a way to find answers to questions, and that the quality of the answers coming back depended on the quality of questions going out. I have never forgotten that. I have found that the better my questions become, the better my art becomes.”