It’s that Pumpkin time of year! Autumn is officially here and as we see the first leaves begin to turn we put up the sign in front and invite everyone down to the glass pumpkin patch!
We make pumpkins through the summer to be ready for the fall of course. But, after a while we want to stretch our glass blowing legs and do something differently for a minute. And then, of course, shop talk turns to “Why does it blow so thin here?” “How could we get more definition in that there?” and then the brainstorming starts.
Most glass pumpkins get their ridges from molds like this…
The hot bubble is pressed into the ribs of the optic mold and when blown out, these create the ribs of the pumpkin… These molds are a staple tool in glassblowing shops through the ages.
But we had an idea… a hybrid creation… part fin mold, part hinged two-part mold, this would be a 4-part fin mold!
After some sketches, assembly begins…
And then, The Test!
Care must be taken to have the temperature of the bubble just right. If it’s too hot it will just flop to the ground before the mold can be quickly closed around it. If the glass is too cold it will chill further in the mold and then fail to blow out into the molds contours or simply crack inside the mold…
The pumpkin takes a heat. The pumpkin must be warmed back up from the mold in order to have it’s final shape adjusted. Using jacks (a glass blowers most important tool) the gaffer will trace around the connection to blowpipe. We will crack the glass cleanly here to transfer the pumpkin to the punty.
The punty rod is a solid iron, unlike the blowpipe which we can blow through. The little gather of hot glass at the end sticks to the pumpkin and allows us to crack the glass free from the pipe and have access to that hole we blew through.
That twisty stem is made from a drop of glass; colored and pressed quickly into a mold and then stretched and swirled around and trimmed.
Some classic pumpkins and gourds, with some of the new pumpkins in the background. Stop by and visit us at the glass pumpkin patch!
Al came into our life about 10 years ago… He was just eighteen and pumping gas at the local station. He had been looking for something a little more fulfilling and challenging to take on and came into the shop one day. We talked and I noticed his intellect right away. He had the ability to carry on and keep up with interesting conversations on complicated subjects; a skill not all teenagers possess. At the time I wasn’t hiring, but I asked him to check back with me. A few weeks later he did and I offered him a job.
I told him he’d have to start from the bottom of the ladder in the studio and he accepted that. So, I put him to work, grinding and polishing, packing and sweeping up. I noticed how attentively he watched the work in the hotshop and after a while I gave him a try at the beginner things. He put loops on ornaments and brought bits and got used to the environment of a working hotshop. One of the things that caught my eye was how good he was with his hands. He learned quickly and was able to coordinate himself and the glass. That is a hard thing to do when you begin and are also adjusting the danger and the heat.
After a few months in the hotshop Al came and asked me for time in the hotshop to practice making his own designs. He worked on vases and ornaments and new techniques every day that he could and often gave these pieces as gifts to family and friends.
Here we tend to take on big, seemingly impossible jobs. Sometimes we have to scramble pretty hard to come up with a solution to a problem and really think outside the box. Once we took an order for an 8′ tall sculpture of a fire in a fire pit. The glass was alright, we can do that. But we couldn’t find a container to be the fire bowl anywhere. No one could get us one big enough that was light enough to actually move into position…
Al came up with an idea to glue up some hi-density foam-board that we had laying around from another job and the turn it into a bowl on a lathe. We both had an interest in bowl turning and carving. I had some books on it and we had chatted about it while in the hotshop. Unfortunately, while I have a lathe, there is no way it would have ever fit that giant block. Al, however, had an idea. So, I let him have at it. Armed with my pattern for the profile of the bowl, he built a lathe to run off one of the wheels of the backhoe!
That was just one of the ways that Al was so invaluable to us here. He was fascinated by the world and ready to turn his hand to whatever needed doing. He was kind, even when things were stressful and everyone was exhausted. And he was always ready to make a joke or be silly to lighten the mood.
Alex Stevens passed away recently in the mountains. He was 28 years old. He will be sorely missed.
The staff here at Belle Mead Hot Glass was on a hunt for a mold. Specifically, a mold for a dreidel. We use these molds to blow some of the classic ornament figures like the snowmen…
Unfortunately, the only one we’d been able to find was an antique German one from the 1800’s. It was very expensive, very old and in Germany. Luckily for us, Bob not only likes to build things, but he shows us how to build things too. Casting in bronze is not only pretty amazing to work on, but also amazing to see, so we took some pictures to show you how its done…
The first part of the process was shaping a model dreidel. We did this with a block of plaster of paris. It was just the same size and shape as the glass ones we make now. I didn’t take a picture of this because I didn’t know how destroyed it would get in the process…
The plaster mold was split into two pieces from top to bottom and then cast in resin. The resin is very sturdy and will stand up to the abuse we’ll put it through during the casting process. And now we have a very sturdy reverse of the glass shape we want to end up with.
We use two-part molds for this type of process. They’re hinged and can swing shut. As the gaffer hangs a bubble off the end of the pipe, another person traps the bubble in the mold. The gaffer blows the bubble up to fill the void and take on the shape of the mold.
We cast the bronze in sand that is packed into a wooden box. The box and sand with the shape inside is called a “casting flask” The sand we use is mixed with a few other ingredients and is known as “green clay” or “Delft clay”. The added ingredients make the clay stick together well so that it will hold the shape of the reverse of the mold.
Bob carefully packed the sand around the resin dreidel shapes. The sand is packed very hard – it is packed incredibly tightly, as in – it took specially modified power tools and a whole lot of time to get it ready. Then he very carefully lifted the resin pieces out. Now the casting flask is ready for the bronze.
In this picture you can see the Sprue, where the bronze will be poured into the mold and the runners that the molten metal will travel down as it fills the hollow. The risers are the holes in the drag that will allow any steam or overflow to escape safely.
This is a little crucible with a few chunks of scrap bronze in it. normally this would be heated inside of a casting furnace. We don’t have one, but we do have a giant re-heat oven. So, for this project we used that instead.
Making this mold was definitely a learning experience. One of the things we learned was that Bob needs a furnace for more casting.
That moment when Bob installed the last pieces on the first sphere was very sweet. With one down and one to go we left the first sphere to the expertise of Alfredo and Bob and went to sample some of Wisconsin’s famous fried cheese curds…
I don’t have any pictures of those cheese curds for you. They were gone that fast! Hard work, anticipation and satisfaction coupled with deliciousness make for big appetites and they were gone in a blink.
The spheres are endlessly fascinating as they transform. One of the things that draws artists towards working with this kind of project is the way they seem to grow and transform organically into their final shapes as they are assembled.
Even after the months spent making the thousands of glass horns and steel pins and washers and clips, and testing and re-testing the fits – it just doesn’t stop being beautiful as it passes through the stages towards completion.
After that the process seemed to flow like water. The employees at Acuity came by on their lunch breaks to remark on the work and the progress and we really relaxed into the rhythm of the work.
As we worked on the second sphere it was hard to keep from looking over as Alfredo and Bob of Hennes worked to hoist and then secure the first sphere into it’s final mount about 25′ above.
After 6 days in Sheboygan we finally installed the last pieces on the last sphere. Alfredo and Bob from Hennes were standing by to hoist and secure the sphere and we were rushing to pack our tools into one little crate to ship home and pack ourselves off to the airport.
Ben Salzmann, President and CEO of Acuity Insurance company came and filled our pockets with Acuity goodies for the plane ride home. I’m wearing that sweatshirt as I type this! And Kurt Lodl took us into the hardhat area to see the progress on the campus’ next expansion. So, thank you to Ben Salzmann, who started this whole big idea, and Sheri Murphy, Vice President of Services and Administration, who administered through all the process (thank you) and Kurt Lodl and all the rest of the Acuity team who were so kind and welcoming. We look forward to working with you all again soon!
Check out #bellemeadhotglass on your social media of choice. The above video is a 3D photograph when viewed on the free app FYUSE. They don’t sponsor us or anything, we just love to share images of this stuff in 3 dimensions. If you have a great picture of something from Belle Mead Hot Glass post it to us on Instagram, Fyuse, Facebook, Houzz and hashtag it #bellemeadhotglass or email it to us here at the website. It would mean alot to us if you did.
And so, after three and a half months of constant work and preparations we had the Acuity installation extension ready to go.
10 Pallets composed of 8 double-tall boxes each, measuring 4′ x 4 x 7′ plus the two metal spheres were assembled on our loading dock and carefully maneuvered onto an air ride trailer. For this kind of installation we simply hire the entirety of a truck. Moving this fragile load and coordinating the meetings between the glass and ourselves and the crews onsite can be a tricky thing. So, working with one driving team and their representatives can simplify things for us. This time, our driver was great and stayed in contact with us throughout the 48 hours that the transit took. He even stopped to text and see that we were ok when a storm caused flight delays on what he anticipated would be our route. And do you know what? It was a good thing he did, because we were delayed! It is a pleasure to work with people who are so considerate and care so much about their job. (thanks Mekonen!)
Here we are unloading the truck… This was a whole lot of glass to move and get sorted. Each box contained pieces assigned to a specific sphere, and further to a panel on the sphere. Much time was spent jockeying these all into position. We were very grateful for the continuous and thoughtful help of Kurt Lodl, the Director of Facility Projects.
Although the staff here is pretty well qualified in hanging glass from ceilings… these spheres were big and also heavy!
Luckily for us, we had two great riggers from Hennes. Alfredo and Bob were great and we were glad to have them there taking care of the hanging of the spheres. Initially, the spheres are suspended only about 5′ off the floor. This allowed us to start hanging the spheres from down low.
Having the sphere within reach of the ground is a great deal easier than working on the scaffolds or lifts. After a few panels we began to get into the swing of things and find our flow.
That first day of hanging pieces was very long. Although we had tested and retested and trouble shot everything over and over back at the shop and this was even the second time we had installed these spheres for Acuity, there were still some nervous moments. But before long, our progress was evident even to our professional worrier and our system had proved itself.
In this image you can see the second sphere in its temporary position further down the hall.
About two years ago we finished the installation of one of the previous blog topics: this set of sculptures in the lobby of Embassy Suites at LAX.
These sculptures (they are spot lit from below instead of lit from within) were designed to bring some color and light to this very large, very tall atrium.
Although the space is not too high to hang them from the ceiling, due to earthquake considerations, it was determined that they wold be most secure if mounted on these metal poles.
Recently we we flew back out to LA to set do a little work on these three pieces and thought it would be a good time to update that blog…
The atrium of the hotel had undergone a huge renovation during the intervening years. And, although the sculptures were often draped the dust had accumulated through the renovating and redecorating process. This type of cleaning isn’t often necessary, but after such a messy and complex renovation it is often a good idea to finish the redecorating process with a deep clean of the work. And so, with the cleaning and re-hang already on the table we began talking about any changes that the hotel might wish to make.
The atrium had been changed over from a warm pale gold tone to be subtle ecru with warm dark wood and blue accents. The colors of the glass still functioned beautifully in place. In the morning they glow like little suns and in the evening, when the glass ceiling above is dark and the sculptures are lit from below, they create a warm, cozy feeling inside the giant space of the atrium. But, this was an ideal opportunity to add just that kind of touch that finishes a space.
In consultation with the designers and decorators, investors and management we chose to integrate a small amount of blue into the sculptures. To do this we worked in two colors of blue. These blues, when viewed in various lighting conditions, blend the blues of the new accent colors thoroughly into the glass.
After taking all of the glass down, we cleaned each piece with glass cleaner and soft cloths and then began to re-hang the chandelier. As we re-hung the pieces we intermixed the two blue tones and the new blue plates in proportion with the red and yellow and orange that comprised the originals.
Overall the effect is striking. At night, when the chandelier is lit from below, the effect is much more dramatic than before. And during the day the bright spots of blue definitely catch your eye and connect the glass more closely to the accents scattered throughout the great atrium space.
We’re recently begun tagging posts on a new app called Fyuse. This app allows us to show you a great 3-dimensional view of a chandelier. It’s free and a whole lot of fun. If you download it, just search for the hashtag #bellemeadhotglass. Hope to see you there!
The Sealife series of chandeliers and sculptures began in 2014 and has been a constant source of interest and discovery for the team at Belle Mead Hot Glass. Because we are evoking a maritime landscape each time there is tremendous variation between the installations.
The first Sealife piece was composed of many different very deep greens with accents in tones of blue and pink and. It had a very deep sea feel to it. Very large and hanging very high this first chandelier has very large sculptural forms meant to be seen form a distance.
Later on, we began to add complimentary pieces throughout the home and began to add smaller and more highly detailed pieces to each chandelier in order to set a scene at eye level.
One of the fascinating things about this series is the way the end reflects the ocean as it exists in the imagination of the client. Deep sea underwater greens and bright sun drenched tropical pastels are equally “ocean” and it is an endless process of discovery to explore what visuals “sealife” brings to mind to each new client. Bob and the staff here work with the clients to develop their palette for the installation and then we start to bring it to life.
Recently we installed a new sealife chandelier on the intercoastal waterway in Florida. The clients were building their dream home and of course, wanted to include the flora and fauna of the ocean that most spoke to them. Sometimes Art is a very public statement of an idea and sometimes it is more personal. The Sealife series has led to some very personal art as clients have come to us with their favorite memories of nature and holidays and asked us to incorporate them into the chandelier.
Here on the Beaches of New Jersey we often have Sand Dollars, for this chandelier we had a special request for Sea Biscuits. Now we
have some knowledge of a very famous horse by that name and we’ve heard songs and stories about eating “hardtack” but Sea Biscuits as an aquatic creature? This lead to a little online research which then led to enormous amounts of time online watching videos that ranged from youtube clips of seashell finds to a binge of classic Cousteau watching. Sea Biscuits are puffy Sand Dollars and they are both Sea Urchins! And that is part of whats is so entrancing about this series…it’s not just the little details, it’s the bigger picture and the little details blending in and out and leading you to think of things you never did before.
Recently while scrolling through my Facebook feed I came across a video of a young glassblower. This up-and-coming young man started in my shop quite a few yeears ago. And, having been absorbed in my own work, I was startled to see how much he has developed as an artist.
In about 2004 or 2005, a father began dropping in to the shop. He said he had a son who passionately wanted to learn to blow glass. And he said his son would do anything, sweep, tidy, pack, if he could just get a chance to be around glass. Mike (the father) told me his son didn’t care if he got paid, he was just on fire to learn about glass. Well, we weren’t hiring at that moment; but, Mike continued to drop by and get to know us all over at the shop. And then, one day, we had an opening and Jake Pfiefer was hired. I have never had an unpaid member of staff. I do believe that if a person is willing to work they should be paid for their efforts.
For the next few years Jake worked hard in the cold-working shop processing and packing the glass we had made the day before. But, he always kept his eye on the hotshop. Eventually, Jake’s persistence paid off again and he began to work in the hotshop. First, he worked putting the little glass loops on each ornament or chandelier piece. This is the first rung on the ladder in the hotshop; it’s not a big step up, but it got him in the hotshop.
Over time, as with most employees who are ambitious, Jake moved on to bigger and better things. This doesn’t always happen, most people who start in glass give up somewhere along the way. For many reasons glass is a very difficult medium to master. The pitfalls can be enormous. The heat in summer alone is enough to bar the way for many people. The expense of working in glass is daunting, as is the ability to master technique and find proper instruction and training. But, as is true with so many things, there are always a few who rise to the top and achieve a level unimagined just a few years before. Sometimes they rise because of some innate ability, luck and opportunity certainly have something to do with it and sheer determination will often bring success. Sometimes, its a combination of all three.
It has been many years since Jake left us to continue on his path as a glass artist. I had never really stopped to imagine how far he would get. Over the years I’ve followed his progress though friends and social media but although I was glad to hear he was still at it and proud of what I knew of his progress it wasn’t until the other day that I got to see how far his work has progressed. Jake has assembled a body of work that utilizes many difficult and complex techniques that only work when done well. He has developed true command over the forms he creates and a great sense of color. Who knows, maybe he will be the next “Glass Master of the Universe” ?
(special thanks to all the staff who have worked with Belle Mead Hot Glass over the years, all success and never stop trying to be the next “Glass Master of the Universe”)
Here is that video of Jake, take a look!
Coming up next?
installations in Florida
Instllations in LA
Installations in Wisconsin
And, “how to train your dragon” or “maintaining a glass furnace!”
With all of the chandeliers we’ve hung over the years we field a fair amount of enquiries about how to keep them clean.
Recently we have gotten quite a few questions about the various chandelier cleaning sprays on the market. If you haven’t seen them, these spays are a solution meant to be sprayed onto a chandlier while it is still hanging in place. The piece doesn’t have to be disassembled and taken down but you do need to make sure that the power to the light is off.
Recently we decided to give one of the sprays a try and see if it would work well for us here at the shop. There is a whole lot of glass hanging here and keeping it clean takes quite a bit of time. Especially in environments like the shop, or kitchens, or outdoors, dirt can build up quickly.
For our trial run with these sprays we chose Brillianté brand spray based on the simple fact that we were able to buy it a gallon at a time. The 20 ounce squirt bottle looked awfully small with the hot shop full of glass as a backdrop…
After flipping the breaker for this chandelier we set up this little pump sprayer, put down a drop cloth and set up two ladders. We used two ladders because, as it notes on the back of the Brillianté packaging, you should avoid twisting a chandelier. The electrical wires do not like the twisting!
The packaging said to let the chandelier drip dry for 30-60 minutes and then absorb excess moisture with a chamois. In the heat of the shop, especially near the ceiling the chandelier wouldn’t stay wet for more than 10 minutes. The first time we let it dry quickly, but we realized it didn’t have enough time wet for the solution to work. So, we tried a second time spraying it every 10 minutes for 30 minutes so it had plenty of time for the Brillianté to saturate. Then we dabbed the drips off the tips of the pieces and let it finish drying.
We left the piece turned off over the whole weekend and then gave it a look on Monday. It definitely looks better. Much of the surface dust had run off exactly as the spray had promised. But the chandelier was definitely not clean.
The environment of the shop creates a constant draft and air from the fields around the shop is sucked in through large doors constantly. Also, the temperature changes as we turn furnaces off and on daily can vary by 100, this leads to really thick layers of condensation which kind of glues the dust down to things. This is pretty similar the situation of many of the chandeliers we’ve hung in restaurants. For these chandeliers the only way to really restore their look will be a quick take down and re-hang. That said the amount of dust the spray removed was astounding and it gave the surfaces it could clean (mostly those areas that were easily reached by our dusters on a regular basis) a very brilliant shine.
For home use and as regular maintenance this spray would be perfect. For glass hung in more extreme environments there just isn’t a substitute for a gentle little scrub. But, in those cases the re-hang does give us an opportunity to do things like check over wiring that may have been exposed to rain and snow, or fish out leaves or the occasional paper airplane. We also tend to use these servicings as a time to look at the chandelier again and see if it needs a little refresh. We often end up taking out a color and bringing in a new one or adding a new shape. Recently we have been transitioning many older chandeliers to LED lighting and we’ve begun to see some requests for color changing LED.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be showing doing just this type of service on a few unlit garden sculptures and we’ll have pictures of the whole process for you. And, we’ll be assembling a chandelier made especially to feature color changing effects and showcasing a few that we’ve done this way in the past.