Once Upon A Time

“Tell me a story?”

“OK”

“A long story?”

“No, not a long story.  It is too late”

“How long will it be?”

” About four minutes and thirty seconds long”

“A true story?”

“How about a partly true story?”

“OK…”

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a castle in a place called Naples.  This Naples is the one in the kingdom of Florida, not the  one kingdom of Italy and this Naples does have dragons but they are smaller…

One of the things that this princess did with her days was taking care of the castle.  Castles can be very large, and at least in Naples they can sometimes be very demanding. But they’re castles so you must  understand that it’s in their nature…

One morning, not too very long ago, the princess woke up and felt that something was not right. And afraid of a disaster the princess ran fast and faster!  -to the very front of the castle to the staircase in the great entry hall.  And, she was right to be concerned, the castle was sad. It was most sad in the area of the stairway.   The princess was perplexed.  How would she cheer up the castle?  Castles are meant to be as cheerful as possible.  She asked it, but it did not know.  It had flowers and plants and beautiful birds and fish.  It had paintings and sculpture and music and people.  What was the castle missing? What did it need?

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

This troubled the princess; she took her caretaking role very seriously.  So she thought and she thought and she did research.  She went out into the land of Naples and looked at many things that the castle might like.  One day she came upon a festival in a square.  There were jugglers and acrobats and musicians and balloon animal makers.  But, best of all there was a bubble blowing boy.  All the people watched the boy dip his wand into his magic mixture and send out streams of beautiful bubbles.  And all who looked on were entranced.  The princess studied the boy carefully and realized that he seemed very happy too.  She decided this was a good sign.

 

 

The princess waved to the boy and he came over to talk to her.  She asked him if he would blow the magic bubbles for the stairway of her castle as a full time gig. But he was very wise about bubbles and said that it wouldn’t be a good idea to blow bubbles all day inside and it would be a dangerous idea to blow them on stairs.  That could be messy and slippery, really quite dangerous.

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

So the princess kept looking.  But, she was very discouraged.  She knew not to give up, but also she knew that it is important to take care of yourself while taking care of a castle.  So she called her princess sister-in-law and they did lunch.  Over lunch she described her idea to her sister-in law and it turned out to be a good thing she did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

 

She (the sister-in-law) knew a man in a far away land called New Jersey, where there are  no dragons who also blew magic bubbles.  She said that these were a different kind of bubble, heavier, but more permanent.  And what this man did was make things out of the bubbles for keeping castles happy all over the world.  This man’s name was Robert Kuster.

 

 

So the princess called him on the phone and described her idea. The different magic bubble man agreed and about one month later he built a ginormous bubble sculpture for the castle stairs.  The stairs, the castle the princess and her sister-in-law, the magic bubble boy and the different magic bubble man have all been living happily ever since.

 

THE END…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moral of this story is “Do your research, ask an expert and think outside the box and you too can have a happy castle”

Goings on at Bellemead Hot Glass

For this post I thought I would just check in with an update about the  current shop goings-on…

 

 

Corning Museum of Glass
Corning Museum of Glass

We all took off to visit the Corning Museum of Glass last Sunday and watched Lino Tagliapietra create a few amazing pieces with his talented team.  It is always a pleasure to see a master at work and the team he has assembled is fantastic in their own right.

 

 

Lino Tagliapietra and tema at a demonstration in Corning Museum of Glass Amphitear

Lino Tagliapietra and tema at a demonstration in Corning Museum of Glass Amphiteater
Lino Tagliapietra and tema at a demonstration in Corning Museum of Glass Amphiteater

 

 

 

is it doneLino has always been a natural teacher. There was never a skill or process that was off-limits.  He had a passion for sharing information and combined with his warm personality his workshops fostered my love of glass.  One of the most important things I learned from Lino was his method of using these 3 things; the form of the vessel, the color and the technique.  He taught me to combine any two of these elements and leave one out.  This way the piece never becomes too artificial…  It was great to see him working on new forms years later and I came away inspired for some new projects myself.

 

 

 

LOOKING AT ART

 

 

We also took time to visit some of Corning’s many galleries and hot shops and of course, Corning Museum itself.  It is good to be surrounded by the energy of creative people and Corning is a beautiful town.  Lino’s visit was in advance of this week’s annual Glass Art Society conference and the pieces we watched him create will ultimately be displayed there.  Unfortunately we had to give most of this week’s many activities a miss since we are in the middle of preparing for an installation in August.  Although we were sorry to miss everyone, it is great to be busy in doing what you love…

 

 

 

 

 

As tight as our current timeline is, we did take a little time this week for a few Father’s Day commissions.  We have done a few very nice sets of rocks and highball glasses, some desk ornaments and we are about to finish another glass fire pit.  GLASSWARE

 

 

It will look similar to the one below and will install on a deck where a real fire might be a very bad idea.

 

 

 

 

 

Firepit in courtyard 2

Falling Flowers

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

And Now for Something Completely Different…

A local customer came to us looking for a chandelier that would add lots of light to the space and have a vibrant and fun feel.  The family wanted the area to be brightly lit, but also to avoid boring ceiling spots, unsightly and glaring bare bulbs and run of the mill pendant lamps…

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

This style of hanging plate or flower chandelier can add both light and color to a space.  After looking through the many glass plates hanging on the wall in the hotshop and going through the images on the website we sat down together and our customers chose just the right size, shape and color for their space…

 

***image of Bob and Scott at the glory***

 

We worked with the finish on the hardware in the rest of the home to build a canopy for this new piece in our metal shop.  It is important that all of the elements of a room tie together visually.  And that is the advantage we have, in making everything here we are able to create each aspect of a design in order to fit best in the space.

 

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

The canopy we are using here is a grained steel surface that will be easy to care for and attractive in the space.  In our metal shop we can create a huge variety of finishes to evoke whatever feel is most appropriate for the space….

 

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

In the end we had a beautiful and functional lighting element that adds lots of light while still functioning as a design element.  Created especially for the space with the full input of the homeowner, we’re sure they’ll enjoy it for years to come.  We certainly enjoyed the process of making it.

The Orangerie?

Orangerie? can you say that in a sentence?

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

I mentioned in an earlier post about how I was inspired to take up glassblowing because of my experience watching a glassblower in Venice make a flower. And, I’ve told you about how I went to Venice and watched the amazing floral chandeliers come to life there.This post is about how a flower chandelier I made quite a few years ago and about making a set of 4 sconces to complement it and it’s current installation in the owners new home.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Owners often move their chandeliers from one home to another. But this move would add four sconces to the room where the chandelier would be displayed. The owners gave us a very specific commission. Working together the husband and wife team came up with a sketch and a good description. They called for a bouquet of flowers wrapped in deep blue and finished in Satin brass. Although their Chandelier has only yellow tulips they wanted to use the bouquet to introduce more of our flowers and colors into the room. This is exactly the kind of creative work that we love to develop and so, several weeks ago we went to work honing the design.

Finding exactly the right shape for the blue base of the sconce was an interesting process as we worked on creating the twisted tail at the base of the cone and creating enough and yet not too much room for all the lighting inside.  The brass also took some experimentation.  We do almost all of the metal work we need right here in the shop.  But we don’t work with brass very often and we wanted the finish to co-ordinate perfectly with the fixtures that were in the home already.

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

Eventually, everything was just where it should be with the sconces and the long-suffering owners were finally ready for installation.  They were building their dream home and had been through a long and complicated construction process. Everyone was finally ready for the installation.  We would be hanging the existing chandelier and the four sconces all in the same day.  The house was almost finished, but just barely.  Electricians were putting on finishing touches and painters and plaster finishers were carefully inspecting.

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Up until this point, we had not seen any images of the space.  Although we had color samples and had spoken at length regarding the feel of the space and the elements that would occupy it that first sight was breath-taking.

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

This room was created as an orangerie.  Although we can just buy an orange or a lemon at the grocery store nowadays, these beautiful rooms were once a refuge for those who could afford them.  In the days when winter time nutrition was a struggle, a bright and sunny room like this would be used to keep citrus trees safe through the winter.  This perfect jewel box of a room is finished in Venetian plaster which will acutally become limestone over time.  It is an amazing thing to see all of these ancient building and decorating techniques preserved and put into use in a room like this. Every detail in the space is a delight and our modern style of blown glass somehow looks right at home. The fact that the owners chose my work so many years ago because of their love of the glass flowers which I learned watching in Venice makes it all fit togther perfectly

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

 

 

The day we got the call part 5

Why is it so hot, it’s April!

The next day after the Acuity team had gone, It was time to get to work. We had proven we could do the Job. All the production and assembly issues had been worked out. We had one sphere nearly completed and now it was all about organization, logistics and hard work. I had calculated about 12,000 pieces of glass and 85,000 welds and pieces of metal to be cut for all of the seven sisters. and if there wasn’t enough on our plates, we had a film crew due to arrive from PBS, MPTV (Milwaukee public television). It was the 20th of April and it was getting hot, like mid to high 80’s and by the end of the week it was going to be in the 90’s. the weather never stopped us from working, but when the temp got up into the 90’s the hot shop typically would go to around 100-125. and it would get pretty unbearable. the key was to drink lots of water. and I would use a trick I learned from my days as a golfer. If you keep a towel in a cooler full of ice, about every 30 minutes or so you could take the towel and wring it out, put it over your head for about 30 seconds and breathe in that cold air. when done just put the towel back in the cooler and you were good to go for another 30 minutes. It worked unbelievably well. So we put ourselves on a schedule. I simply figured the number of work days between the installation date and our start date and we had our work schedule pretty much mapped out If we made 100 pieces a day we would have enough glass for our August Installation. Luckily the 3 larger spheres were due in late August. The 4 smaller ones were due in September, which gave us a break and a chance to clear out our shop before beginning the second phase. Even with a  5,000 sq. ft. building it wasn’t enough space to handle all seven spheres.

Robert Robert Kuster Belle, Mead Hot Glass, Hillsborough New Jersey,Parx Casino Belle, Mead Hot Glass, Hillsborough New Jersey,
Robert Kuster Belle, Mead Hot Glass, Hillsborough New Jersey,Parx Casino

Act naturally.

The day the film crew arrived it was 95 degrees. and I was in no mood to be slowed down by anyone. when it’s that hot out the only thing you think about in the morning is when can I stop. so even before we began they arrived. We had a short meeting about how things would go and then we started. The only problem was I had never been filmed professionally before and was quite nervous about the process and so I asked Lois our producer if she had any pointers for budding film stars and she said “just act naturally” and you’ll be great. and so I did just that and before long it was like they weren’t even there. by day three we had all gone out to dinner a couple of times and we’re having a blast. It wasn’t until a few months later when I saw some edited clips on a high def. monitor that I realized why so much work, effort and resources goes into producing even a 1/2 hour film. Seeing myself on that screen was really cool.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Our arrival in Sheboygan

 

The plan was to load the 60 Foot air ride FedEx tractor trailer. with the first three metal spheres our tools welder, misc. equipment and the 6000 pieces of red, yellow and orange glass. get on a plane the next morning and the truck would be waiting for us when we got there. So far so good we arrived 15 minutes before the trucks arrival. the only problem was It had also been there a few hours earlier and we were missing a crate. This was a problem because everything we shipped we needed to do the installation. With a lot of fussing and me nearly in panic mode we figured out that the missing crate was all our tools and the welding machine. So with about an hour of calls later we we’re able to buy or rent everything we needed.

Later that day we found out what happened. the shipment was refused because no one was expecting it. It was returned to the terminal, unloaded and somewhere along the missing crate was separated never to be found again. fortunately we were able to file a claim with FedEx and we we’re paid for our missing equipment.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Let the assembly begin.

 

Once we had everything we needed. we had to thing about protecting the floor. which was made of 2 x 2 foot squares of marble. and because we we’re one of the last crews to arrive it was our job to see that nothing was damaged. we protected the floor with 4 x 8 x 1/4 inch sheets of Masonite two layers thick. next we brought all the metal sphere parts up through the freight elevator. then the glass was brought in. fortunately we had a system of labeling the boxes so we knew which box went with which sphere. we had 5 different lengths. 6 diameters and 3 colors. and each panel had a specific arrangement and if something got used up be  While Chris began welding the sphere together the rest of us started sorting the glass. once that was done we were able to organize the glass by each of the twenty triangular sections that made up the sphere. It all went like clockwork, we completely assembled all 3 of the 15 foot sisters. including cleanup in just 5 days. we were all very proud.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

The day we got the call part 4

Our Guests Arrive…

 

The group of six executives from Acuity was due to arrive in the early morning.  I had rented a Lincoln Navigator to shuttle us all around in, figuring that if I had come this far I should go all in.  And so, nervous but excited and both drooling and lisping I put on a blazer (a twice yearly event) and headed to the Trenton Airport.  They arrived right on time in the company jet (a Gulf 4, I think) and we headed to over to my very spacious new rental.

We spent much of the half-hour ride out to my property talking over the construction project as a whole. I was asked about my progress and I had no sooner started to fill them in than we were there. Because of the position of the house in relation to where we parked, they could not see the sphere suspended from in the two ash trees at first.  We walked about a fifty feet towards the main house and only once we passed that corner did the 15′ sphere come into view.

 

It seemed like forever while I waited for someone to speak… “Well! What do you think?” I finally asked.  They were simply speechless; I believe I got a unanimous twelve thumbs up and everyone loved it.  All at once everyone began to speak to each other and to me, telling me how excited they were to have my work in the corporate headquarters.  CEO Ben Salzmann said he thought they should do a documentary on the making and the installation of the project.  But, as wonderful and as all of this was, the best was yet to come…

 

We got the blues…

Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Glass Garden Art
Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Glass Garden Art

As excited as they were about the three 15′ spheres for the main hall, Ben had a bigger vision.  He wanted to add four slightly smaller spheres, two in each the East and the West wings.  Now, in addition to the spheres of red, yellow and orange, I had assembled several panels of other colors, primarily in blues and greens.  It was important to be sure about the colors before moving forward and these panels would give the executives a chance to see the glass up close and in a grouping of pieces. Ben walked right over to a panel set up in an equal mix of Emerald, Cobalt, Amethyst and Aqua and it was decided right then and there that we would do four more 10′ spheres in colors exactly as I had them laid out.

 

I’m not afraid of heights, I’m not afraid of heights, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not afraid of heights!!!

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

On a side note…

A couple of days before the spheres big debut, I had the bright idea of chartering a helicopter and doing a little aerial photography.  I popped into the Princeton airport and scheduled a flight. My pilot had done this kind of flying for real estate photography many times before.  When I told him what I wanted to do he said “no problem” and “have you done this before?”  Thinking to myself “how hard cans this be” I replied “of course”.  Now, as I buckled into the tiniest helicopter I had ever seen, the pilot walked around and removed my door!  “What are you doing?” I exclaimed, which clearly revealed that I had not, in fact, done this before.  He explained that in order to get any decent shots I would have to trust the buckles and lean out of the door to shoot.

 

As, I began to turn alternating shades of green and white my pilot said ‘Ready?” and off we went.  The trip to my home was only 3-4 miles as the crow flies but when you are nervous and nauseous that can feel like a long way.  I asked the pilot if it was normal for these things to shake so much, it felt as if the whole machine would just vibrate apart well before we got anywhere.  But as we climbed higher and began to move forward a little faster I started to calm down.  It actually became exciting! In about ten minutes we had the sphere in view and I watched as we got closer and closer and it grew bigger and bigger. To be hanging out of this little bubble in the sky and clicking away was truly an adventure I will never forget.

Whats in a name?

On the way back to the Trenton Airport Ben said we should name the installation. At this point I don’t remember who came up with the exact name But, I remember saying Seven Sisters and Ben saying Seven Sisters of Acuity and that was how it got its name.  Dropping Ben and his team off at the airport I felt exhilarated.  Here I was, one day making small gift items and trying to grow my glass business and the next day in a situation that made me feel like the King of the World! Life was Good.

 

The day we got the call, Part Three

Build it and they will come…

 

As I had mentioned in my last post, we had agreed to assemble the first sphere in New Jersey as a preview for the folks at Acuity.  The question we had was “where?”.  Now at the time I had 11 acres in Montgomery Township. About half of it was wooded, about half of that with second growth fields that were loaded with cedars that would never support the 5,000 lbs of the sphere.  Luckily, right behind my house there were two 60 foot ash trees about 40 feet apart.  After consulting with Olaf, the engineer it was decided that as long as we kept the angles on the cables right and didn’t create too much tension horizontally the trees would be alright.

We began to move the triangular panel sections from the shop to my house and bolting them together we assembled the sphere.  Once the sphere was assembled we hoisted it up into the tree and attached it to a 3/8″ cable.  The cable had to stay at an angle of at least 45 degrees (picture the way a necklace or a medallion will hang) if the cable were too taught it would pull the trees together instead of pulling down on them. And then, we would have a pile of glass and steel and two ash trees.  To lift the sphere we used an old backhoe that I’ve long since gotten rid of.  I called it “the rolling biohazard” because no matter how many lines and hoses we replaced it wouldn’t stop leaking its hydraulic fluid everywhere.

Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster
Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster

So with the sphere suspended, we began bringing over the glass from the studio. in a 5 X 10 Home Depot type trailer. all two thousand pieces. Armed with a lot of enthusiasm and will will power we plodded along. Remember we were making all this up as we went along and it was very stressful. Ben and his executive team as well as the architect were going to visit us in two and a half weeks. They after all were on a schedule. And I had to keep up or all would be lost.

The night Giovanni almost died…

I was so tightly wound the night before Ben and his team was due to arrive at Trenton airport that I couldn’t imagine sleeping at all.  Inside I was a wreck because although we seemed to have Ben’s confidence I thought it might not be shared by all of his team.  And someone somewhere had let it slip the the architect wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of having his beautifully designed building cluttered up with these massive spheres.  But, I tried to get some sleep; each minute laying there seemed like an hour. Eventually I began to doze, listening to the trees complain to each other in the wind.  Abruptly I awoke to a loud elongated crash!  My biggest fear had come true and the trees had finally had enough.  “Bob we’re mad and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

 

After a few moments my heart stopped pounding and I threw on some warm clothes to take a look. If after two months of this exhausting work this would be the way my glass career ended then I must surely have done something very bad in a former life. Standing at the back door, I breathed deep and turned on the light.  As I slowly opened the door I looked and saw that the sphere and its two trees were all intact!  I stood in silence for a second and then began to simultaneously laugh and cry.  Recently my hammock rope broke while I was napping in it.  There was that initial startled feeling as you try to process what has just happened, then the inventory of body parts and then that slightly unhinged laughter as you realize nothing is broken…  This moment was like that.  It just seemed to be so funny and I had all this pent up nervous energy.  Wandering around the house I began to look for the source of the noise.  I thought it must be a shelf from the kitchen full of pots and pans, but no.  Finally I found the source.  In our living room were two very old walk in fireplaces.  Our cat Giovanni had somehow managed to knock over the great andirons in one of them and sent the whole thing in a great slow motion crash to the floor.  Although in that moment, I was tempted to find out if Giovanni could fly I let it go and free from all that pent up energy, I went back to bed for a little bit of sleep.  The next morning would be ShowTime!

 

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

There are two stories we tell about this time that make this part of the story complete and set the stage for that visit from the Acuity team.  The first is that I had gone to the dentist two days earlier.  I had gone to a new guy recommended by a friend.  I was told he was the best so I made an appointment and it was decided that I would need some work done.  As I sat in the chair and he took measurements I noticed that this dentist had not just one but FOUR hole-in-one trophies.  I had to ask; “are they all yours?”  “Yes” he replied.  At the time I had been playing golf for about fifteen years with a handicap of 7 on any given week; I was proud of my game but sadly, a hole-in-one was not one of my achievements.  “Wow” I said, “you must play a lot of golf”.   He said “yup” and “sure do” and all of this while he worked away on me.  I thought to myself how glad I was to get this work done before my big meeting and after about an hour I was set with a temporary.  But, something didn’t feel right.  I told him and said I felt like I was speaking with a lisp, maybe drooling.  He replied that this was par for the course and told me I would be fine by tomorrow; I would get used to it and just needed a little time.  So, I said ok and let it go.  The next morning I awoke and I was definitely drooling and had a pronounced lisp.  I called that dentists office to complain and to try to get help before my meeting; but, he was out playing golf!  Moral: If your doctor or dentist has enough time to accumulate four hole-in-ones they are probably not very focused on being a doctor or a dentist!

Why is it so cold it’s the middle of April?

Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster
Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster

 

The second story is just an amazing two inches of snow.  April is very, very late for snow here and an accumulation of two inches was quite a shock.  The added weight on the sphere was a huge concern for me.  Gingerly, I tried to brush the snow off the sphere.  My biggest concern with the snow was that it would melt during the day and then refreeze inside of the glass pieces causing them to shatter during our suddenly freezing again nights.  But, in the end, that didn’t come to pass and finally, after the long, stressful effort and so many heart-stopping surprises both large and small – the team arrived and the visit began….

The Day We Got The Call, Part Two

After all the design particulars were sorted out and the size and shape and general arrangement of the red, yellow and orange pieces were chosen, we were ready to move forward. Now it would be my job to figure out how to make everything work. My biggest issue would be weight. Each 15 foot sphere had to be less than 5,000 lbs. I made a plan for each sphere to have an internal metal structure that would be 9 foot in diameter.  Individual glass pieces would attach to the outer surface  and vary between 24″ and 36″ in length.  The final sphere would be 9 feet of internal metal framework and then 3 feet on each side of blown glass pieces.  This would give me the final dimensions of 15 feet.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

The internal sphere would be built like a geodesic dome, with twenty individual triangular, curved panels that would bolt together onsite to create the sphere.   The sphere design had come to us through the work of a local engineer named Olaf Pederson.  The engineering was worth every penny, instead of attempting a design and hoping it would work, Olaf ran the numbers and proved it. And, as it turned out the design would have withstood an increase in weights by a factor of eight before there was any deflection. Through much trial and error we had determined that each individual panel would hold 100 individual pieces of glass of varying lengths and widths.  This would create the fullness on the surface that we were looking for.  So each panel was fitted with 100 pins of steel welded in place to hold the glass in position.  Again I did the math: 20 Panels x 100 pieces of glass = 2,000 pieces of glass per sphere. Up until this point all of the larger pieces of glass I had made had each weighed upwards of 5 pounds.  The metal spheres were weighing in at 800 lbs. That weight plus 2000 pieces of glass weighing 5 lbs each would have left me with a total weight of 10,800 lbs per sphere! This was more than twice as heavy as the limit set by the engineers for the building.  Even if I thinned the glass mounted to each sphere by 50% -it would still be too heavy.  This was so depressing; I had gotten the job of a lifetime and I couldn’t figure out how to pull it off.

 

After losing a couple of nights sleep from worry I finally slept a solid eight hours from sheer exhaustion.  Waking up I finally felt refreshed and rested and I determined to see what I could do to get the weight of the glass down.  Slowly but surely, over the next week or so and after a few hundred pieces of glass I began to make 3 foot long pieces of glass that weighed less than 2 pounds! We kept practicing and they began to look better and better until we had a form I found really pleasing.  Now the 2,000 glass pieces and the metal frame came in at a svelte 4,800 lbs! It was truly a great day for me and once again- no sleep! But, this time it was just that I was too excited.

The next day, I began another set of calculations… We needed a total of 6,000 pieces of glass for all three spheres.  We would have to cut and weld 15,000 individual pieces of metal for each of the three spheres. Each piece of glass was going to need to be firmly attached to the sphere.  I did not like the idea of tying each piece off to the sphere with wire.  And, although I felt considerable pressure of time, I believed it would be best to take a moment and come up with an elegant solution.  While we moved other areas of the project forward I kept trying new ideas Thomas Edison style. After many prototypes of wire and forms I finally found an elegant solution.  I made a little clip that reminds me of a grasshoppers leg.  With a loop at each end of an L shape spring that will hold the glass at one end and the sphere at the other while tensioning the glass up into the sphere. Adding a neoprene washer and a protective polyethylene sleeve to each metal pin we greatly reduced any stress on the glass. And with each piece of glass firmly in place on its own designated pin we ensured that the glass at the bottom of the sphere would not bear the weight of the glass at the top of the sphere.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Next we began to puzzle out the different diameters and lengths of glass.  It was important to me that at any angle a person would see the glass and not through to the metal sphere.  Through trial and error we adjusted a pattern of placing the glass. Because of its shape each of the curved triangular panels has pins that are closer together at the edges and further way as you near the center of the panel. Adjusting the fit using different diameters and lengths of glass we created a layout. Once that was done it was simple work to replicate it over the other panels, creating the uniform appearance I was determined to achieve.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

One of the things that helped Acuity in their decision to hire me, an unknown, for this project, was my willingness to do a full scale mock-up sphere for their approval.  With all of the above questions settled I started to work on that first sphere.  This after all, would be when the project was really secured.

The Day We Got The Call

Although I didn’t know it at the time, our lives would never be the same….Part One

We got the call sometime in the fall of 2003, I remember it was very warm, perhaps it was still September? I was just coming in from a run after a day’s work in the hotshop.  As I walked up the driveway Sheila met me outside and said she’d received a call from someone named Ben Salzmann.  He his wife and had been shopping in downtown Madison she had noticed one of the chandeliers in a local gallery.  Knowing that her husband was looking for art for his new corporate headquarters, and liking the look of my chandelier she suggested it. Ben contacted us   and explaining he was looking for art for the new headquarters he was building in Sheboygan, WI for his company Acuity, he asked for some information on our company.

Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster
Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster

Calls of this nature were fairly typical at the time. There are often many enquiries before it’s decided that a project is the right fit for all parties; and I learned early on not to count my chickens before they were hatched. About a week later Ben called back and said he received the info we sent him and asked if we could propose some ideas for the space if he sent us some 3Dimensionsal renderings. If my memory serves the main part of the building was about 150′ long by about 70′ wide and 65′ high at the peak. The ends of the hall were gigantic glass walls facing East and West allowing the room to flood with morning and evening light.

019 (3)

Ben said that he wanted two or three sculptures about 8′ to 10′ feet long by whatever width would work for the space. Although this certainly did have my attention, there still no chickens to count. We worked quickly to produce three sets of renderings which fundamentally were enlargements of smaller works I had done. The first rendering was 3 long tapered chandeliers done in a multi-colored fashion, the second rendering was a somewhat ovoid shape in tones of blue and green and the third was three spheres of varying sizes in a blend of red, yellow and orange. The third rendering was a hit. Ben told us he loved the third rendering with the red, yellow and orange evoking the fiery sun in the windows. The only problem, he felt, was the sizes were all wrong. He wasn’t sure what it was about the sizes that he didn’t like but he said he would like to think about it for a few days.

Over the next two weeks I didn’t get much sleep. I paced around wondering what it was exactly that Ben didn’t like about the spheres. Also, how would I tackle a job that, if I landed it would be so much bigger than anything I had ever done before. When the phone finally did ring the answer shocked me. They were too small! That’s right.  The spheres were too small; Ben wanted them bigger, and instead of 6′ to 8′ he wanted them 10′ to 11′. Internally, my response was no way. I couldn’t get my head around the 6′ to 8′ size, how was I possibly going to make them bigger? But, after I thought about it for a couple of days and with some encouragement from family and employees, I figured “I can do this”.

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

Funnily enough, that wasn’t the end of it. Just a couple of days later Ben called back again and upped the ante to no less than 15 feet in diameter and all the same size. My response was exactly the same as before. There’s no way can I pull this off, I though, not to mention the fact that the engineer for the building said the load limit was 15,000 lbs for all three spheres.  And now again, on paper there was no way this was going to work… (Part Two Next Week)

Inside Looking Out

I’ve written before about how flowers have been part of my fascination with glass from the very beginning.  This has always played into one of my other great interests: gardens.  Over the years I’ve integrated glass into the outdoor spaces in my life in numerous ways.  From simple yard decorations such as finials, butterfly and birdfeeders and baths, to more complicated sculptural fountains and chandeliers.

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Hillsborough NJ 08844, Robert Kuste
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Hillsborough NJ 08844, Robert Kuste

One of the benefits of displaying art in the outdoors is that almost as a side effect we look at the area around the art differently.  Doing that intentionally we can create focal points that cause us to look deeper into our environment.  The changing feel of an installation highlights the landscapes transition through the seasons.  It is endlessly interesting to see how an installation appears as it contrasts first against the winter spareness and then against lush foliage in spring.

 

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Glass Garden Art
Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Glass Garden Art

We often use glass to bring the outside in; the Sealife series of chandeliers, floral chandeliers and many of the specific color palettes we create with our customers reference the outdoor spaces surrounding their indoor locations.  But, we can’t forget the option of bringing the indoors out.   Bringing design elements into the garden and blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living spaces unites both spaces.  Even in climates where this isn’t possible to do in actuality, visually it works beautifully; creating a harmony and making all spaces feel tied together.

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

One of the most amazing properties of glass is it’s durability.  What other material has such staying power?  The medieval windows of stained glass appear to us with their colors intact. Using the climate considerations and good design as a framework and a guide we create sculptures that will stay for all seasons.  When stopping by the studio people often ask about the glass garden here and how it fared during the hurricanes this area has experience in recent years.  The truth is, we’ve done very well.  We’ve never taken anything down in preparation, but rather let it hang as a test.

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

 

 

 

As the weather warms up, we are starting to work again on the garden here at the shop, integrating new things into the existing landscape, experimenting, and creating new areas for as yet unmade installations.  We’re looking forward to integrating glass plates into stone walls, retrofitting some sculptures with LED lighting and honing the process on some completely new sculptural concepts that we’ve never experimented with before.

Enjoy your garden, we’ll keep you posted…