Posted May 1, 2024

Glassblowing alum scorches the competition on Netflix’s ‘Blown Away’

Long before she impressed the judges on Netflix’s glassblowing competition show, Gemma Hollister honed her glassblowing skills at Temple’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture.

Image of Gemma Hollister creating a glass hamster tube on the set of Blown Away.
Photography By: 
David Leyes
Gemma Hollister molds a glass hamster tube on the set of Blown Away. The Tyler alum squared off against nine other professional artists in season four of the Netflix glassblowing competition show.

When Gemma Hollister, TYL ’21, arrived on Main Campus in the fall of 2017, she had no idea how much the Tyler School of Art and Architecture’s glassblowing studio, or hot shop, would shape her future. It was in that studio where Hollister discovered her passion for glassblowing and laid the foundation for a career in glass. 

“I came to Temple because I knew I wanted to study art, but then I just happened to stumble upon one of the best glass programs in the country,” said Hollister. “It was pretty serendipitous.” 

Hollister showcased her skills against top glassblowing professionals on the latest season of Blown Away, Netflix’s hit glassblowing competition show. Blown Away pits 10 professional glassblowers against each other in an elimination-style competition, with career-changing prizes, like residencies at top glassblowing institutions around the world, on the line. Season four, released on March 8, is currently available for streaming on Netflix. 

From a young age, Hollister had a natural affinity for many art mediums, including sculpture, origami and ceramics. The Bucks County native came to Tyler undecided about what she wanted to focus on, but that quickly changed after she saw the school’s state-of-the-art glassblowing facilities. 

“Once I saw the hot shop I was like, I have to take a class. I have to try this,” she said. “So, I took a class, and I got involved with the Glass Collaborative, which is a student-run glassblowing club at Tyler, and I was just enamored. I decided to make glassblowing my major.” 

For Hollister, part of the allure of glassblowing lies in its many challenges. She embraces the medium’s high-stakes nature, where one small mistake can lead to a shattered piece on the hot shop floor. 

“One thing I like about working with glass is that it reflects a lot about your values in life. Stuff hits the floor, stuff happens, how do you deal with that?” she said. “We have to believe as makers that we’re responsible for everything that happens with the glass. If glassblowing was easy and if things didn’t break, then it wouldn’t be valued. It wouldn’t be exciting.” 

The first season of Blown Away aired in 2019, just as Hollister was getting serious about glassblowing. She quickly became a fan of the show, and it’s been on her radar ever since. When applications for season four rolled around, Hollister decided to apply, and she was further encouraged by faculty from Tyler’s glass program, including program head Jessica Jane Julius. 

When she was selected as a contestant, Hollister needed somewhere to train for the approaching competition. She reached back out to Julius, who enthusiastically encouraged her to return to the Tyler hot shop to mentor students and use the studio to practice.  

Her training also brought her to another iconic Philadelphia spot. 

“I was legit running up the Rocky steps, because I needed to be fit for the show,” she laughed. “Glassblowing is really physical, and it gets sweaty in the hot shop. I was running around Philly and then blowing glass at Tyler. It was very much a Rocky training montage of my own.” 

Image of Gemma Hollister working with hot glass on the set of Blown Away.

Hollister describes her artwork style as traditional but surrealistic. "These days, I'm making things like hamster tubes, or traditional stained glass about robots that were decapitated in Philadelphia. I like to use traditional techniques in ways that no one has used them before." (Photography courtesy of David Leyes)

In season four of Blown Away, Hollister is billed as the rookie, and a newcomer of sorts. And although she’s confident in her abilities, Hollister takes pride in representing the next generation of glassblowers. 

“I think it was important for me to be on the show as a young woman representing young glassblowers. The next generation of glassblowers is a bit more diverse, and we’re hungry to do well and prove ourselves,” she said. 

One of Hollister’s favorite moments on the show was a partner competition in which she got paired with renowned glassblower Karen Willenbrink. Hollister had been a fan of Willenbrink’s long before they met while filming for the show. The two enjoyed dinners together throughout filming, and they developed a genuine friendship. 

“Karen is a glassblowing legend, not just because she’s a woman in glass, but because she’s the best at what she does,” Hollister said. “To work with someone so skilled and so passionate, especially for me as a young woman in glass, it’s something I cannot even put into words.” 

Since 2022, Hollister has co-owned Antolini Glass Co. with her partner Tate Newfield. Located in Kensington, Antolini Glass Co. produces glass housewares and ornaments for wholesale and retail.  

In addition to those production glass pieces, Hollister also creates and sells glass artwork similar to the extravagant pieces seen in Blown Away. She’s working on new pieces that will be on display in an exhibition at the renowned Traver Gallery in Seattle this October. That show is in partnership with Willenbrink and Morgan Peterson, another contestant from season four of Blown Away. Visit Hollister’s website to browse and purchase some of her glass creations. 

Beyond the Traver show, Hollister is poised to continue growing her business and honing her glassblowing craft. She’s also looking forward to having some fun and enjoying her success on Blown Away

“I’m excited to do some traveling and go on some adventures,” she said. “And I’m still soaking in all of the support from the show. I’ve received so many kind messages from people since it’s come out.”