John Sharvin works on glassblowing wearing glasses and a blue shirt.
Photo courtesy of John Sharvin.

Pittsburgh Glass Center’s John Sharvin is competing to win $60,000 in prizes against the best glassblowers in the world on the Netflix show, “Blown Away,” which premieres on Friday, July 22.

When the call went out last June for contestants for the hit show’s third season, Sharvin, who is the studio manager at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, wanted to put his skills to the test — and shake things up after the pandemic.

“I was like, ‘You know what, I need to change up my life. Things are kind of not going my way,’” says Sharvin. “And, well, this is going to be a ridiculous opportunity. So let’s give this one a shot.”

He made the cut. Of course, he can’t say whether he won or not just yet. All 10 episodes will air on July 22, so the word will be out on Friday.

A contestant uses a torch to blow glass.
“Blown Away.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.
“Blown Away.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Although glass making requires a specific set of skills, the show has found an audience beyond glass artists.

“It’s not made for glass people; it’s made for the average person, and so they do a great job of explaining the techniques and the tools and showing this incredibly visual art form,” says Pittsburgh Glass Center Executive Director Heather McElwee, who was a judge on Season 2. “And it’s so visually stunning, watching the torches and the flames and the fire and all the different colors you can implement.”

The competition show features 10 glassblowers vying for the championship and a residency at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. It’s hosted by YouTube star Nick Uhas and renowned glass artist Katherine Gray in a studio turned into “North America’s largest hot shop” in Hamilton, Ontario.

Sharvin started out studying engineering in college but was uninspired by it. On a whim, he took a glassblowing class — and on the following Monday morning, changed his major to fine arts in glass.

Originally from Columbus, Sharvin moved to Pittsburgh to start a technician apprenticeship at the nonprofit Pittsburgh Glass Center. He now teaches younger glass artists how to run a glassblowing studio.

12 contestants of "Blown Away" pose for a photo.
“Blown Away” Season 3 contestants. Photo courtesy of Netflix.
“Blown Away” Season 3 contestants. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

The challenges in “Blown Away” are wild and weird and difficult. Contestants are pushed both technically and conceptually, with the specter of a perfect creation snapping, cracking and smashing on the floor lurking close by at all times. Previous episodes have shown contestants creating everything from glass sushi in a bento box to glass pieces inspired by meaningful photographs.

“There’s always a theme for each episode, and we had to come up with a fully articulated design and art piece — design it and be able to talk about it, write about it and then go and make it,” says Sharvin.

Sharvin has to keep the themes a secret, but rest assured, they were not easy.

“Outpost No. 2” and “Love, Lounge, Launch” by John Sharvin. Photo by Aaron Raymond.
“Outpost No. 2” and “Love, Lounge, Launch” by John Sharvin. Photo by Aaron Raymond.

Everyone has their specialties, though, and Sharvin’s 15 years of experience have given him opportunities to explore new forms.

“I work mostly in sculptural type of stuff,” says Sharvin. “I used to be into vessels and functional work. I guess, six years or so, I’d really gotten into doing more sculptural type work both in glass and using mixed media. The direction of a lot of my work has been going currently is using miniatures and glass to kind of create these surrealist landscapes and motifs.”

And don’t forget his glass animals.

“I love making cute animals. As I make them, it’s more of a technique, practice-type thing. Kind of like elevating craft and spending a lot of time putting a lot of detail and making them look somewhat realistic — but with this kind of hint of cuteness that is kind of not realistic.”

A small glass sculpture of two manatees.
“Mother and Daughter Manatees” by John Sharvin. Photo courtesy of John Sharvin.
“Mother and Daughter Manatees” by John Sharvin. Photo courtesy of John Sharvin.

There will be a “Blown Away” Watch Party at the Pittsburgh Glass Center on Friday, July 22, from 5 to 9 p.m., with Sharvin. Chris Clarke, director of operations at Pittsburgh Glass Center — who appears in Episode 3 as a guest judge — will be on hand to talk about judging the competition.

The one question Sharvin always gets is “Would you do this again?”

“It’s a really hard one,” he admits. “It was really stressful — physically, mentally exhausting. And as of right now, no. But I feel like in a year from now, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that again.’”

Despite the fact that it was a competition with a lot at stake, Sharvin says he formed a bond with the other contestants, all of whom are part of a small circle of skilled glass artists.

“We’re on a group chat daily talking to each other,” says Sharvin. “We all became very, very good friends.”

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.