- Associated Press - Sunday, January 8, 2017

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - At least one Quad-City military veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, added a new coping mechanism to his arsenal this fall.

Glassblowing - the art of inflating molten glass into decorative pieces - found Mark Van Osdel just as the U.S. Army and Navy veteran planned to pursue the craft himself.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” said Van Osdel, who spent about 14 months in Iraq during 2007 and 2008. “It’s obviously not a cure by any means, but it gives you a reason to get up and go do something.”

Last month, the Quad-Cities Vets Center partnered with Hot Glass, a not-for-profit business in downtown Davenport run by artist and executive director Joel Ryser.

Prior to launching in 2014, Ryser and his son Logan raised more than $200,000 worth of donations in cash and equipment over a two-year span. They remodeled the vacant space at 104 Western Ave., and transformed it into a vibrant studio where they teach the basics of glassblowing, and create and display their work.

The Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/2igaRYe ) reports the Rysers offered free classes to at-risk or under-served children from the get-go, and just introduced the hands-on clinics for veterans.

“The way I look at it,” Ryser said, “people donated everything to get this started, so I want to give other people the opportunity to do something they normally don’t have a chance to do.”

Among other funding sources, Ryser specifically credited GETT Industries in Milan, the Electric Doctor in Bettendorf and the Davenport-based Hubbell-Waterman Foundation for financing his mission.

Located on the western side of Davenport Printing Company’s building across from Modern Woodmen Park, the steamy shop is a prime spot on a chilly December day.

During the active production process, glassblowers there frequently stick their steel blowpipes into one of two 2,300-degree furnaces to reheat their fiery honey-like formations.

One day earlier this week, the father-son duo - drenched in sweat - helped one another spin, shape and blow a bowl with fluted edges and a drinking glass.

A lot of their work, they pointed out, requires more than one set of hands.

Ryser, who serves as director of the art department at Moline High School, also coached football there for 26 years. He said the teamwork aspect of glassblowing drew him to the medium, and he thinks it attracts and benefits his students, as well.

“They’re in here making something, but they’re also learning how to work together and communicate, which they need to do out there in everyday life,” Ryser said. “Whether it be the soldiers or the kids, we’re hoping that they’re taking a little bit of that away.”

In high school, when Logan played football under his father, the now-25-year-old said he “never” thought he’d become an artist.

“I definitely wanted to be involved on the business side of things, but now I’m in love with the artwork, too,” he said. “It’s a newfound passion of mine.”

To help cover the costs of rent, utilities and supplies, which comes close to $2,000 a month, the Rysers teach private groups and pursue commissioned jobs on the side.

“I don’t make any money doing this,” said Ryser, who sells intricate vases, ornaments and paperweights too. “Our goal is just to stay open and serve the community.”

Throughout 2016 to 2017, they hope to instruct at least 50 individuals in complimentary classes, thanks to about $35,000 in grant donations they’ve received from various community organizations.

Pleshette Butler, director of the Quad-Cities Vets Center, said she currently has a list of veterans waiting to enroll in another course at Hot Glass. She thinks the program is “therapeutic” for veterans who battle bouts of anxiety, anger or depression associated with PTSD.

“They get to work together as a team just like they do in the military,” Butler said. “They learn a lot and it gives them a sense of pride when they complete a project.”

Van Osdel, who lives in LeClaire with his wife and three children, last visited Ryser on Wednesday with Chance, his mixed-hound service dog that accompanies him everywhere.

The stay-at-home father said he particularly enjoys the camaraderie Hot Glass provides.

“The more I go down there, the more he (Ryser) lets me do,” said Van Osdel, who formerly served as a rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy. “It definitely helps take your mind off of what’s going on in the world.”

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