Toni Gerlach first discovered her love and passion for glass as a young girl in Las Vegas. Now nestled in the heart of Deadwood, Gerlach runs a glassblowing studio connected to The Pump House, a coffee shop and deli. Guests can grab a bite to eat and watch her work, or even take a glassblowing class from Gerlach herself.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Toni Gerlach: I grew up in Las Vegas. I have one brother, Jesse, and he still lives there. Both of my parents grew up in South Dakota; my Dad from Pierre and my mom from Deadwood, so I am South Dakotan at heart! I did spend plenty of time in SoDak growing up as both of my grandparents lived here and I saw them quite regularly.
How did you get started with glassblowing?
TG: From a young age I have always been fascinated with glass. I remember looking up at the sea of glass on the Bellagio’s ceiling and knowing that I wanted to learn this amazing art form. For my 15th birthday my mother enrolled me in a glassblowing class, much like those I offer today in my own studio. This was my first experience working with glass and I was hooked! I immediately enrolled in a three month course. During this time, I realized I wanted to truly pursue glassblowing as my career. I then continued and still am continuing to learn this amazing craft. It is truly my life’s passion.
I have studied visual arts and glass blowing at California State University San Marcos and completed apprenticeships at a variety of glass blowing studios in California, New York, Nevada, and South Dakota.
What do you love about being a glassblower?
TG: What I love about glass the most is that you are not able to touch it with your hands to manipulate the shape. You always have to have a tool and sometimes it is challenging to find that tool! Another favorite quality of the glass of mine is that you constantly have to manipulate the heat if an area is too “cold” (1,800 degrees) the glass could crack or break. On the other side, if the glass is too hot (2,100 degrees) you will lose the shape of the glass you already sculpted. There is a fine line of working temperature. What I love most about the glass is that once you start the process, it has to be finished. You can’t just set it off to the side and work on it later.
What is unique about the location of your shop in the Black Hills?
TG: Our shop is located in an old Texaco service station. It’s decorated with oil cans and signs from the era when it was still a gas station. Now I blow glass where they used to change oil and we make sandwiches and coffee where they used to have the office. Having a coffee deli in a museum of sorts is pretty unique on its own, but then you throw in the fact people can watch glass being blown, or even work with glass themselves. I think we’re pretty one-of-a-kind there!
How can people find out more about lessons and demonstrations this summer?
TG: They can visit our website mindblownstudio.com where we have all the info on the glass experiences we offer, as well as what times I’m in the studio working. We do our best to keep all the info there up-to-date, but we encourage people coming a long way to call ahead. As the summer heats up, some days are just too hot to be in the studio.