Fire in to the season with Sonoran Glass School

Glass-blown ornament in SGS Hot Shop. Photo courtesy of Sonoran Glass School website.
Glass-blown ornament in SGS Hot Shop. Photo courtesy of Sonoran Glass School website.

Southern Arizona is adding Sonoran Glass School to its list of must-see attractions.

Last year, the Southern Arizona Attractions Alliance included the 13-year-old non-profit, full-service glass arts studio to its recommendations of places visitors should see.

Sonoran Glass School, at 633 W. 18th St., Tucson, is the only one of its kind to make the list and is the premier public access glass arts educational facility in the desert Southwest, a designation that the studio is proud to maintain.

John-Peter Wilhite is the director of development and operations and has been involved with the school for more than eight years. Wilhite and the SGS staff have a passion for one specific art medium — glass art — and it is their goal to bring it to the Southern Arizona community.

“What makes us so different is that everything we do is glass, and glass art is a unique art medium in and of itself,” Wilhite said. “It is also a more involved form of art because you’re dealing with fire and material that can be dangerous.”

Sonoran Glass School teaches four different glass art techniques: glass blowing in the hot shop, torch working in the flame shop, kiln forming in the warm shop and cold working in the cold shop.

“We have classes that anyone can come to sign up for, including specialty classes where we bring in visiting artists from other cities and states to teach their own glass art,” Wilhite said.

Kiln-fired ornaments in the SGS Warm Shop. Photo courtesy of Sonoran Glass School website.
Kiln-fired ornaments in the SGS Warm Shop. Photo courtesy of Sonoran Glass School website.

The classes focus on offering a unique experience, he said, and many classes allow guests — especially reaching out to those from outside of Tucson — to come and make their own “glass art experience” that they can take home with them.

During the holiday season, Sonoran Glass School offers special holiday experiences with classes in the hot shop, flame shop and warm shop, including an open house on Dec. 21 where visitors can make their own glass ornaments.

“Our business picks up when we get into the times of the year that there are a lot of people in Tucson,” Wilhite said.

 The holiday workshop is just one of many ways that Sonoran Glass School raises funds for the nonprofit organization. Susan Silverman works with Wilhite as a development consultant to maximize funding throughout the year.

In addition to fees it collects for its classes and workshops, Sonoran Glass holds an annual fundraising event that Silverman said brings in money — as much as $25,000 according to Wilhite. The facility also gets private donations and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Arizona Commission on the Arts, and the Tucson Pima Arts Council.

“There is a good balance of funding support in place with approximately 40 percent earned income, 30 percent grants and 30 percent donations,” she said.

The key to expansion for the glass art industry will be promoting the intersection between the arts and sciences that the art of glass provides, Silverman said, and for now the school will put effort into stabilizing itself here in Tucson before expanding further.

“As a nonprofit, our goal is to build where we are,” Wilhite said, “We want to make our site better and more conducive to working with more people from all over the state while staying where we are.”

Information on holiday offerings and other class opportunities, visit the Sonoran Glass School website here.

 Sarah France writes for Arizona Sonora News, a news service produced by the University of Arizona School of Journalism. Contact her at

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