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Snake-Oil Glassworks holds holiday open house

It's a different world when you walk into Phil Austin's shop in Mottville.

The term "shop" has two different meanings when referring to Snake-Oil Glassworks -- first, it's a gift shop where consumers can buy everything from glass flowers to vases and Christmas ornaments; second, it's where all those items are created by hand.

Austin has been working with the molten liquid for more than 20 years. He got his start in 1982 when he was an undergraduate student at the Rochester Institute of Technology where he earned his bachelor's and, eventually, his master's degrees in art.

Everyday is a learning experience for Austin. Like others who work with glass, he started out making paperweights, gradually working his way up to the skill he has today.

"You're still learning. You never stop learning," he said. "It takes a couple years before you make something right. They're not teaching the craft in school."

On Saturday, Austin, his wife Peg and daughter Michelle hosted an open house to demonstrate the craft at the shop. The name for Austin's business was something the artist came up with several years ago, and it's as original as the pieces he creates.

Telling a bit of history, Austin said snake oil is a patented medicine from the 19th century that cured all ailments.

"It's just a name that I tagged on," he said. "I'd drawn this cool snake and didn't want to part with it."

As Austin walked a group of young children through the basics of glassblowing in the workshop, his daughter aided in explaining much of what he was doing.

"There's a lot of myths about glass," Austin said. "It's a difficult material to deal with because you can't touch it."

Austin considers glass "a third state of matter," he said, because of its combined liquid and solid states. It is also a material that is in the "vitreous state," which he explains as some that has to be able to cool and not crystallize -- unlike ice cubes that are taken out of the freezer too soon.

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