WESLEY CHAPEL — During a trip to Italy, New Tampa resident Bronwyn Tulloch found herself fascinated with glass after watching a glassblowing demonstration.
So she was among the first to sign up for a new class at Roxanna Dreger's store the Urban Suburban on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Dreger invited Land O'Lakes artist Michele Palenik to teach people how to make fused glass jewelry.
The process consists of combining different pieces of glass and then melding them together to create a unique piece. While Palenik will take care of the actual melding process, which involves turning the glass this side of lava, the creative process will be entirely up to the individual.
"Doing stuff with glass is not something you can do at home," said Tulloch, a nursing student and mother of two.
"My classes are designed to inspire my students to use their creative spirit," said Palenik, a classically trained jeweler with more than 20 years of experience. "I don't make a project and give you step-by-step instruction. I give you information, techniques, materials, and examples of the possibilities."
There will be two classes — the first class focusing on material selection and the creation of the jewelry, and a second optional class for assembling of the jewelry.
The first class is from noon to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, with the second class at the sam e time Sept. 28.
The cost is $40 for the first class or $75 for both — which includes enough materials to make two sets of earrings and two pendants — so participants will have one set to keep and one set to give, if they choose.
"It's nice for the holidays, especially if people are low on funds. It's always nice to have a homemade gift," said Palenik. "You get to pick out the colors, the different glass. It's very personalized. It's a chance to find your creative side."
A native of Raleigh, N.C., Palenik said she's always been artistic but didn't get into jewelry-making until a trip to the Virgin Islands turned into a learning experience for her.
"While I was there, I met some crazy jewelers who took me under their wing,' said Palenik, who started out as a bench jeweler and metalsmith. She now specializes in fine gold, precious gems, kiln-fired precious metal, and, of course, fused-glass jewelry.
But her areas of expertise extend beyond the technical. Palenik holds a degree in marine biology, something that continues to influence her artistic style and choices.
"There's a science behind it," Palenik said, referring not only to fused-glass jewelry but to other artistic techniques as well. For her, science and art naturally go together. She said that she draws inspiration from her personal database of slides of animals and other sea creatures.
But nature and science aren't the only things that Palenik draws inspiration from; she also finds inspiration in others.
"I have something to give, but I also have something to receive," she said. "I am a teacher and a student simultaneously — we all are."
Learning something new is one reason Tulloch is taking the class. She's looking forward to meeting like-minded people.
"It's a chance to do something new, to meet new people," said Tulloch, who has been a loyal customer at the Urban Suburban ever since she moved to New Tampa from Wisconsin a year ago. Tulloch said she stopped in one day and immediately "loved everything in the store."
"There are a lot of unique things that you wouldn't find anywhere else," she said.
"It's all about being unique," said Dreger, who opened the Urban Suburban three years ago with her husband, Matt. "It gives the area a personality that can be lacking in the suburbs."
And the jewelry-making class will hopefully offer locals an artistic outlet as well, something that Dreger said is often lacking in small communities.
"I thought it would be fun. There aren't a lot of artistic things to do in this area, and it's important to support local artists, and the community you live in and work in," she said.
And Palenik agrees.
"It keeps us doing what we do, and keeps us donating to the community," said Palenik, who donates part of the proceeds from the sales of her glass bowls to St. Jude's Children's Hospital.
“Jewelry is where your heart is. It says who you are as a person. Especially when you make the jewelry yourself — you have a chance to really pour your heart into it."