CHAMPAIGN — By day, Jason Mack is the building manager for Champaign First United Methodist Church. By night and on weekends, he and a team of workers have been building a large glass Christmas tree on the north edge of downtown.
“We put the last layer of glass toward the top,” Mack said. “This weekend, we will put more glass on the base to survive the winter.”
Located at the northeast corner of Washington and Neil streets, the tree rises 31 feet in the air and weighs 1.5 tons. It is made of 10,000 recycled bottles.
Mack said thousands of people have discovered the work of art already.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people” who have stopped by, Mack said. “It just makes people so happy to see it.”
“I have had so many people come up and thank me for doing it,” he said. “Some get so excited. It gives them a reason to get out of their house and come to see it and come downtown again.”
The tree, which will be lit from the inside, will be on full display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Sunday.
It took 10 days for Mack and his three co-workers to build. He said it’s never too cold to build something like this.
Each evening, they would shovel crushed green-bottle glass into a propane-heated mobile glass furnace, where temperatures reach 2,300 degrees. In the morning, they would have 300 pounds of liquid glass to add to the Christmas tree.
The recycled glass was furnished by the community.
The artistry involves gathering the liquid glass on the end of an iron pipe and dripping and wrapping it around a spinning steel armature.
A Downers Grove native, Mack said he learned to create the art at several places, starting at Illinois State University, where he graduated with a degree in studio art in 2007. He has also learned at glass-blowing workshops taught by an Italian master and various glass artists.
Mack and his crew are happy to pass on their knowledge. On Tuesday afternoon, they held a workshop for young people sponsored by Barham Benefit Group.
The workshop was “a fun learning experience,” Mack said.
It took 10 days for the glass tree to reach its full height.
“What an experience,” Mack said in an online post. “So many challenges had to be worked through, and moments of doubt and fear had to be overcome to get there, not to mention (the) lift is super wobbly when you have two people walking on it 30 feet up.”
Mack said he did the project as “more of a work of love.”
The project is being paid for with donations from area businesses.
The tree will remain up until Jan. 30. The glass thread will then be removed to use in other art projects, including to make Christmas ornaments that will be sold. The ornaments (Mack estimates 2,000 can be made from the glass) should be finished by March. A presale is being held for them.
Mack’s goal is to ultimately build a forest of recycled bottle glass, possibly also at or near downtown Champaign.
The tree “is a way to introduce the idea,” he said.
The glass Christmas tree won’t have a glass star — or any kind of star, for that matter. But Monday night’s conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter, which some are calling the Nativity Star, could serve that function. Sort of.
It won’t exactly be right over top of the tree. The best place to see the two planets so close together is above the southwestern or western horizon about sunset. It will be the first time they have appeared so close since 1623.