Making a life out of glass

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Photo by Shirley Murtha

Rolling the molten glass on the metal table to begin shaping.

If you have been to any of the Granby Artist Association arts and crafts shows during the holiday season or enjoyed visiting the artists’ studios on Open Studio Day in the fall, you have probably noticed the exquisite glasswork done by Silver Street Glass. Pieces of all different sizes, textures and colors capture the eye: wall hangings, paperweights, jewelry, Christmas tree ornaments, vases, bowls, to name a few. Did you know that you could make some of these things yourself by taking a class—either individual or group—at the studio at 105 Silver Street in North Granby? Before the details on that, here’s a little about the people who brought their skill, creativity and imagination to our town.

Annukka Ritalahti was born and raised in Finland where she began her career in glass in 1980, running a glass studio for several years until surgery on a neck problem caused an inability to lift the heavy pieces. She decided to switch her focus to smaller art pieces such as stained glass wall-hangings, mini-sculptures and beads for jewelry making. Her education took place in European glass centers in Berlin, Florence and Murano, and eventually brought her to the Corning Museum of Glass in New York state, where, in 2014, she met Mark Gottlieb, who would become her husband. Many of her art pieces are on display in Finland, and she has had several private art exhibitions all over Europe. She is invited to teach all over the world, Jerusalem being one of the more interesting experiences, and also here in the States. During January, for example, she taught in Kansas.

Photo by Shirley Murtha

Ladling more molten glass onto the rod.

A native of White Plains, N.Y., Gottlieb came to the area while a student at the University of Hartford, where he received a degree in math and chemistry. He had been intrigued with the melting of glass since his days in high school chemistry and decided to take some classes to learn more about it. He first studied at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, Mass., then Franklin Pierce University and several times at the Corning studio where he became friends with the lovely Finnish girl who would steal his heart.

Gottlieb bought the house on Silver Street in 1999. He renovated the original structure and in 2015, added the studio and gallery. Meanwhile, the couple continued to date across the ocean, as Annukka had returned to Finland to teach. They married in May 2015 in Granby Town Hall.

In addition to making their own beautiful art objects, the couple is happy to teach others and help them to make simple pieces of their own. Here is the process, seen in the accompanying photos, to make your own paperweight.

A reservoir of molten clear glass is present in the furnace, with a temperature of 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. An appropriate amount is wound onto a metal rod and taken to a metal table where it is rolled and shaped. While still hot, it is rolled into trays of tiny colored glass bits called frit. A piece may contain one or multiple colors.

Using a large ladle, more of the molten clear glass is added to the rod and it is brought to the bench where it is continuously rolled and shaped with a wooden block and a tool called jacks for one to two minutes, by which time it has cooled and must be reheated in the furnace for more shaping. A hand-held torch is used to heat specific areas of the piece for the final touches.

This process continues until the desired result is achieved, at which point the object is broken off the rod and placed in the annealing oven, kept at 950 degrees. It, and all the other pieces made on that given day, will stay in the oven for about 12 hours. Cooling takes place gradually in a series of steps; if the items cool too quickly stress is built in and they may eventually break.

For something a little less physical, one of Ritalahti’s stained glass classes may interest you. Her stained glass pieces may combine painting, engraving, fusing and etching. She puts these pieces together to make intricate wall-hangings, suncatchers and lampshades. Her work involves both flame-working and lamp-working techniques. Flame-working, with a large torch, is used for making bigger items such as large sculptures and perfume bottles. Lamp-working, with a smaller torch, produces smaller items such as the beads for jewelry-making.

The Gallery at Silver Street Glass is open by appointment and during town art events. Ritalahti and Gottlieb participate in many craft shows, so it is not possible to have regular gallery hours. At this time, their work is for sale at the Granby Pharmacy, which Gottlieb notes is a very successful venue for them. To see examples of their pieces, visit their website,

Closed earlier this winter, the studios re-opened Feb. 18. Glass blowing classes will be offered through May 13 and again from October through the end of the year. To see what is available, visit the website. To sign up for a class, call or text 860-921-1486 or email

Photo by Shirley Murtha

Guest Billy Baraw from West Springfield inspects his work.

Photo by Shirley Murtha

The final product, ready to be placed in the annealing oven.