As a kid, Gillian Preston watched a glassblowing demonstration at a Renaissance festival. Now the artist combines those traditional techniques with modern technology to create jewelry that’s a smashing success.
Her company, Broken Plates Glass Wearables, sells contemporary accessories, including light-bending kinetic necklaces, earrings and cuffs.
Preston, who works out of a McKees Rocks studio, shares tricks of the ancient trade on TikTok. She hit the social media platform last April, quickly amassing 35,000 followers with fun and informative videos that condense the labor-intensive process. Creating online content also helped Preston pass the pandemic downtime.
“Glassblowing is a spectator sport,” Preston says.
The Texas native attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, where she learned to create large glass installations. She also took a metals class to try her hand at jewelry-making, but she found that work to be too small and tedious.
But instead of abandoning bangles and baubles, she decided to combine her loves and started breaking the big, translucent sheets of glass and turning them into jewelry.
“I realized jewelry is a wonderful way for me to showcase my passions and what I do,” she says.
Preston doesn’t use a hammer to smash plates; she uses a CNC waterjet to cut out intricate silhouettes and 3D printers to make molds for shaping molten glass.
Once Preston began wearing the jewelry around town, people wanted to know where they could buy their own. In 2015, she officially launched the business. You can find her wares at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Carnegie Museum of Art, Mattress Factory and via her online shop in a wide range of prices.
Glassblowing is mainstream thanks to the show “Blown Away,” the Pittsburgh Glass Center’s mobile demonstration furnace and Preston’s TikTok account, which she updates every other day.
Is she afraid one of her followers will rip off her ideas?
“There are more efficient ways to make jewelry,” Preston says with a laugh. “Sometimes it’s not the most informative thing that gains followers or eyes; humor plays a huge part in engaging people. The more they understand about glassblowing, the more they will appreciate it.”