Ever since Walt Disney met the young Arribas’ brothers, Tomas and Alfonso at the New York World’s fair in 1964 and saw their beautiful glass works of art, he wanted a shop in Disneyland. It was the beginning of a collaboration that has lasted till this day. Known as an “Operating Participant” their shops are in all the parks and are sole licensees in the Disney Parks Worldwide to produce and sell Disney copyrighted items in the glass and crystal medium. Their employees are considered Cast Members and have to attend the Disney University. But what makes Arribas’ the premier outlet in glassblowing and cutting worldwide is their staff of expert “Glass Artisans” These are the artists that bring the objects to life. Here is the story of one of Arribas’ top artisans, David Sandidge…
DDL- Where were you born and raised?
DS- I was born in Bethesda Maryland in the naval hospital. My Dad was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot when I was a child, about every three or four years. My dad was stationed in the Orlando area in the late “60’s and early “70’s. My father was a navy musician. He actually marched on Main St. on opening day in in ’71.
DDL – How did you become interested in glassblowing or a glass artisan?
DS – Well actually in the first year that Disney opened, I was about seven years old and as a child visiting Walt Disney World, it was the first time I saw glassblowing on Main St. and it left a great impression on me as it does most children who see the demonstrations. And then later in the military I was stationed in Virginia Beach and there was a local factory that was teaching glassblowing to young people. So I took a job after school every day making small glass figurines. That’s how I got started in the business.
DDL – Glassblowing is not a common occupation, is it a popular vocation?
DS – No, it’s not very common. Glass has been around for a very long time, and there are many people interested in it, but it’s been kind of secretive as far as the vocation goes. To become a glassblower you have to be in the right place at the right time, or have been born into a glassblowing family. In my case, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
DDL- So you have to be part artisan, part mechanic, all rolled into one?
DS- Well you do. You have to be artisan and engineer I would say.
DDL- Were you interested in any other vocations besides glass artisan?
DS- I did, I actually always wanted to be a pilot. After I graduated from High School, I went to college; I continued to blow glass part time, but I studied aviation. The more I studied aviation and flew airplanes I started seeing that vocation as a glorified bus driver and I was really enjoying what I was doing in glass, so I made the decision to stick with glass.
DDL- Are there any schools or business’ that one can learn the art of glassblowing?
DS- There is now several schools nowadays, but in 1979 when I started blowing glass, if you wanted to learn you had to work as an apprentice for a glassblower or as I did an apprentice at a factory. I have learned from other glassblowers throughout the years and we shared and collaborated on ideas.
DDL- Are there any other members of your family that work in glassblowing?
DS- Yes, as a matter of fact there are quite a few people in my family. My brother went to work in the factory before I did. He was in high school and I was in junior high. When I turned 15, I followed my brother into the factory. My brother-in-law was also working there, and later my younger sister came to work for the factory.
DDL- Can you give us a quick history on the art of glassblowing?
DS- Folklore says that it was the ancient Phoenician sailors that had a fire on the beach and it was lined with blocks of limestone. They were using sea grass and driftwood to burn, and these are the three primary elements of glass, the silica from the sand, soda ash from the sea grass and driftwood and lye came together in the coals just enough to produce glass. But that’s just folklore. There is no written history on where glass came from. It was 5,000 years ago that the ancient Mesopotamians were making glass, but it was not glass blowing, but core-forming. Core-forming is to have a long clay stick with a wad of grass and mud, dip it into the molten glass and the glass would encase the form. Later you would wash away the form and have a hollow vessel. It wasn’t until the first century that the Romans started blowing glass. After Rome fell and world went into the dark ages, most technology disappeared, including glassblowing. It was not until the Byzantine Empire that glassblowing emerged again as a strong trade in Venice.
DDL- How many years have you been a glassblower?
DS- 34 years.
DDL- Arribas Brothers does two types of glass art. What are they?
DS- There is the furnace glassblowing, where in the furnace you have a pot of molten glass and use a long blowpipe, gather some glass at the end of it, blow air into the pipe and expand the glass into a bubble that can be shaped and formed. Then there is torch working which is to melt glass rods and manipulated them into figurines.
DDL- So in addition to knowing how to blow glass, you have to be an artist as well?
DS- Certainly. There is a difference between a technician and an artist. I’ve known many glass technicians, but the artist is the one that can create the forms, whereas the technician is better on production work.
DDL- How did you start at Arriba’s Brothers?
DS- In 1994 I received a phone call. They were looking for an artist who could work on a large scale for making limited edition Disney Characters for the Disneyana convention. They found me through word of mouth, someone refereed me to them. I have been with Arribas since 1994.
DDL- What kind of artistic glass blowing is done at Arribas?
DS- Arribas provides the glassblowing demonstrations for the various types of glass arts; the torch work and furnace work. We also do glass engraving.
DDL- Are you allowed to create your own designs at Arribas?
DS- I design much of my own product. Whenever we produce Disney character products, it goes through an approval process through the Disney art department.
DDL- How many artisans work at Arribas?
DS- We have five glassblowing demonstrations, one furnace and four torch working demonstrations. Downtown Disney, Main St. the Mexican Pavilion and the German pavilion. We have eight glassblowers.
DDL- Do the glassblowers do both furnace and torch work?
DS- Typically glassblowers specialize in one or the other. I do both forms.
DDL- Are there different types of glass used in both furnace and torch?
DS- Most typical is soda-lime glass, made of silica, soda-ash and lime. That is what we use in the furnace. Different metal oxides give the glass its different colors. On the torch we use Borosilicate glass, commonly known as Pyrex. It’s a low expansion glass. It’s made of silica and boron rather than soda ash and lime. It was invented in the 1890’s by the German glassmaker, Otto Schott. This glass has a low susceptibility to thermal shock. Because of this, it can be manipulated in and out of the heat and not break.
DDL- What type of fuel is used for heating these furnaces?
DS- Majority is electric furnaces which are more efficient than gas.
DDL- What are Arribas’ Brothers best-selling items?
DS- The Disney characters.
DDL- Is there any one person at Arribas that does the designs?
DS- Over the years since I have been with Arribas’ I have done a lot of design work, maybe more than most. But all of our glassblowers are very creative and do a lot of their own design work.
DDL- How does the guests like the glassblowing demonstrations?
DS- The guests absolutely love watching the demonstrations. Most are just mesmerized.
DDL- Would you recommend being a glass artisan as a career?
DS- Absolutely! It’s a very rewarding career.
DDL- What does the future of the art look like?
DS- Fabulous! Glass art is up and coming. There are more and more glassblowers emerging every day. It’s a new resurgence in the art. Many colleges and universities are opening glassblowing departments.
DDL- Can you tell us of any special projects you have done for Disney?
DS- I was originally hired to make limited edition pieces for the Disneyana convention. I would make only 50 pieces for the convention and that was it. There were many other artists at the convention. I met Carl Barks who was the creator of Scrooge McDuck. He and others were there to create limited edition pieces for the convention. I have done many other projects that Disney has come to Arribas for, such as various retirement gifts and awards. I have done a special award for Rosa Parks. Just this past July I made a piece that was presented to Nancy Reagan by Bob Iger for the opening of the Disney Archives. It was a Mickey Mouse on a base standing next to a large glass jellybean jar, signifying of Ronald Reagan’s love of jellybeans.
DDL- What is your favorite piece?
DS- I would have to say the one I just spoke of, the one for the Reagan Library. I also did a piece for George Lucas; a glass lightsaber. I also made pieces for the Swan and Dolphin hotel that they use to award their salespeople. I’ve done the security Mickey, Chef Mickey, custodial Mickey and a limited edition Tinkerbell for Tokyo Disneyland, and a large scale Genie from Aladdin for our new shop in Tokyo Disneyland. The Disneyana Convention in Tokyo I’m doing limited editions for that also.
DDL- Do you have any specialty pieces that you enjoy making?
DS- I specialize in dragons.
DDL- How many parks have you worked in?
DS- I have worked in all the parks, globally. I was part of the opening team in Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005. I made the giant glass castle that is the centerpiece there. I did training of glassblowers in the overseas parks, but did demonstrations in Hong Kong Disneyland.
DDL- Dave, just an amazing story! I want to thank you for your time, it was fascinating.
DS- My pleasure, you are very welcome.
Words cannot fully due justice to the beautiful and intricate art treasures that Dave creates. Enjoy the galley of some of his work…