Cameron Clark gets excited talking about handmade glass.
He can explain the process of how individual parts are meticulously made by artisans, stretched into a perfect shape and added to a larger piece.
“I’m always telling people, that is my passion,” Clark said of his blown glass obsession.
With Otto’s, his new store at 3411 W. Elm St. in McHenry, Clark wants to share that passion. Otto’s offers handmade glass for sale and classes for anyone else to learn how to make glass themselves.
“Come in, make glass, and go home. Make yourself a pendant and learn the fundamentals in one hour,” he said.
While the store sells glass pipes, CBD products and other smoke shop paraphernalia, it is the glass blowing that takes center stage.
Clark is not a glass blower himself. “I never learned to blow glass; I just love it,” he said.
He worked at a glassmaking business from 2007 to 2015. When that shop closed, Clark bought the table and other equipment for his own store.
Clark brought in local glassmakers to teach others and create a space for learning.
One of those instructors is Nick Pruitt of Round Lake. Pruitt has his own home glassmaking studio. He came into Otto’s on the day it opened, June 3, to “look around and appreciate” the glasswork Clark has on display and for sale in the store, Pruitt said. He and Clark started talking.
Since then, Pruitt has taught 10 classes at the store.
To ensure everyone gets hands-on help, only four students are allowed at one time. In the first level, they learn how to make a necklace pendant, an ink dip pen or an ornament. Each level of classes builds on the next in a “choose your own adventure” style, Clark said. People with previous glass blowing experience can skip the basics or rent the studio for their own blown glass projects.
On a recent Monday, Joshua Patterson and Marc Esses were the two entry-level students.
“Both of us enjoy doing new things,” Patterson said as he practiced rotating and shaping what would become a pendant.
“I feel like I am getting better as I go today, but I have to have help” when the molten glass got a little lopsided, Patterson said. From his spot across the metal-topped table, Esses declared he was “faking it until you make it” with his “chaos flower” design.
As co-instructor Tom Schodtlur and instructor-in-training Kyle Myers helped Patterson and Esses get started, Pruitt talked about the history of melting glass over an open flame. The work is styled after old-style Venetian masters in Italy.
Shows like “Blown Away” on Netflix, a competitive glass blowing series, has brought new people to try it out, he said.
Once people see them doing it live, they decide to try it, he said. If the students run into problems, Pruitt said he, Schodtlur or Myers “will rescue it” and get the piece back on track.
But what excited Pruitt is the changes in the glassmaking industry, from the thousands of colors to the added opportunities to learn.
“Thirty years ago, you had to know somebody” to learn glassmaking, he said. “It is amazing that an opportunity like this exists.”
While Otto’s is a smoke shop, “the main focus is the glass blowing. It is not just about making pipes,” Clark said. “You can also make cool glass.”