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…

Big Tree, Old Tree, Dead Tree, New Tree

Trees don’t live forever, but a little while longer would be nice.

It’s always saddened me to see a tree die, whatever the reason. Trees give us shade, replenish our oxygen and they are home to countless creatures. They give us endless cycles of alternating beauty in the spring and fall. So, when the end is near I have always had a difficult time letting go, this applies especially to the big ones. I have personally tapped the maple trees on my properties for over 25 years. I know the trees I live with and have watched their lives over time.

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

Hurricane Sandy was especially hard on the trees here. I think I lost at least 20 mature trees during the storm and afterwards from storm damage. After the storm I had the large trees that were left standing trimmed and pruned.  Those that couldn’t make it were trimmed and left standing in place.  In some cases I had the bark removed.  Seeing the beautiful grain, the whorls and burls of the trees growth is an amazing peek into its life cycle and endlessly fascinating.

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

After the Trimming

Over the last 26 years as a glassblower I’ve handled many large projects. Often, after completion we would find our self with a group of extra pieces which wind up taking up space and collecting dust in our studio. These are the spares we create to be ready for whatever might happen in transport and installation. So when it came time to make decisions about what to do with all the extras we weren’t “stumped” for long. Put it in the trees!

 

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

 

I remembered years ago an old friend of mine (Dave Bush) started hanging empty blue wine bottles from tree limbs. Or more accurately, he would slide the open end over a branch and create a beautiful blue bottle tree sculpture to glisten in the sun. With those charming bottle trees in mind and using what is at hand we now simply go through our supply of extras and decorate those beautiful old trees; adding a few extra years to what would ordinarily have been the end.

Naples

An Amazing Home In Naples Florida

Recently we received a call from a long-time customer of ours from New Jersey.  He dropped in to visit and ask about one of his chandeliers. We spoke initially about changing the profile of the foyer piece in his Naples, Florida home.   This opportunity seemed ideal to do an LED lighting upgrade so that got added in as well.  And then, as we talked over his growing art collection it seemed obvious that this was a perfect time to do a subtle shift in the colors of the piece to add some depth and echo back the colors of other work of mine he has hanging throughout the house. After sorting out exactly where to go with the modifications and after finally getting everything scheduled we headed down to Naples.

Red yellow & orange foyer chandelier Robert Kuster
Red yellow & orange foyer chandelier Robert Kuster

Bill has added nine chandeliers and one sconce from Belle Mead Hot Glass to this residence over the years.  As an artist it is great seeing how each one integrates into the space he chooses for it.  Using color, size and profile as well as the selection of individual shapes that comprise the chandeliers he has created a thematic flow throughout his home and yet each chandelier looks unique and harmonious in its space.  With our team we worked on two of them, adding to them, adjusting the overall shape and upgrading the lighting.

Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier

Naples is a beautiful town with gorgeous views of the water and lush tropical foliage. We spent a few days looking around the town of Naples and admiring the galleries and public installations there while visiting with customers who have moved there over the years and stopping in the local galleries. The light and views combined with the art and community for a very inspiring environment.  Our customers graciously took us on a little meet and greet tour and wined and dined us spectacularly. Soon we began talking about bringing the glass collection outside and a conversation about sculpture in the garden began.

Newly reconfigured red yell & orange Chandelier By Robert Kuster
Newly reconfigured red yell & orange Chandelier By Robert Kuster

The homes on the waterfront in Naples have two different faces; one face they show to the street and one to the water.  The challenge would be to bring the themes of the glass inside the home outside into each space while maintaining the different aesthetics that characterize the bright and open water views and the lush and private front yards.  We had some great discussions over potential inspirations as we walked around the town admiring the public art and while sitting at the amazing local restaurants and watching the sky change in the evenings.  And we came away from this trip with a friendly challenge to produce the perfect pieces for the front and back.

72" x 32" Grape chandelier
72″ x 32″ Grape chandelier
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Stairwell chandelier Robert Kuster
Stairwell chandelier Robert Kuster
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier

Flowers

pulled-stem-gif

Glass Flowers (the mainstay of our business for over 15 years) making a comeback.

 

I’m not sure what it is, besides having always enjoyed flower gardens, that makes glass flowers so captivating for me.   When I began blowing glass one of the first things I learned to make was a pulled flower. The pulled flower is something a novice can be taught and will almost always turn out on the first try. Glass can be incredibly intimidating for some; so to have a beginner be able to put one in the plus column on his or her first try is a big deal. Sometimes that’s all it takes for someone to get hooked. I certainly did.

In 1990 I was ending one career and looking to take on something new; I was taking a glass-fusing class with my sister Bonnie and just looking around for new ideas.  I remember peering around the corner in the workshops of my fusing class and becoming fascinated by the seeming magic of what the glassblowers were doing.  I began to sign up for one class in glassblowing after another.  Diving in, I began to study the world of glass blowing, trying to learn who was who and what various styles were from where and by whom.  I pursued classes with Maestros like Pino Signoretto and Lino Tagliopietra and I realized I need to go to Venice, more specifically, to Murano.

Murano is the Mecca of glassblowing. After 6 or 8 months of struggling to get past the basics, I was convinced that all the answers to my questions were there. From equipment building and design to all the secrets of technique, I knew I would find the key in Murano. And I was right. I made my way to Italy and found myself in a wonderland.  After figuring out how to find the places that made the kind of work I wanted to make and armed with a couple of names like Pino Signoretto and Lino Taglapietro I began to make my rounds and watch. While in Murano I also learned about Dino Tedeschi, known simply as Dino, his tools are legendary.

glass tools glass molds

I visited the Valese Foundry where they make bronze optic molds and Arcangele, another mold maker. And of course, I went to see Roberto Donna, who made some of the best glass working tools in the world. I found myself surrounded in a world of glass; for me it was like being a kid in a candy store. After the initial shock and awe of being there I began to focus and absorb the amazing glass. The Venetian chandeliers and wine glasses caught my eye and held it.  Each one is more intricate and beautiful than the next. The chandeliers were like hanging gardens, filled with all kinds of flowers and leaves in colors ranging from clear to deep reds, greens and yellows. Everything I wanted to learn was in a chandelier or a goblet -more technique than you could shake a stick at.

Murano Chandelier 0159_125 murano wine glass

 

From then on there was no looking back. Flowers were the focus of the business. We made roses, daffodils,tulips, sunflowers, irises, poppies, cattails, bird of paradise, and many others. We were on the cover of the spring catalog of Barneys one year and Sachs another. We were so busy making flowers that we typically would make 150 flowers a day 4-5 days a week for almost 4 years. And after that I prayed no one would ever order another flower again; and in a way my wish came true. As quickly as it all began it ended. In a word: China. China took over. Suddenly what I would sell for $25 wholesale factories in China would sell for $2. Of course they were not of the same quality, but to the buyers the much lower price point meant bigger margins. And so it goes.

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

Today we still make flowers, but not at the same frazzled pace of 15 years ago. We sell them in our gallery and  often include them in our chandeliers and wall sconces. They are once a gain a pleasure to make and a nostalgic way of remembering our beginnings as a growing business.

Brain Matters

This isn’t brain surgery…

It was sometime back in September of 2015 when a long-time customer asked me to make her a glass brain. That was a new one on us. My initial response was “sure, no problem”.  I thought, I’ll Google “brains” and find a company that sold anatomical models. Then, I would make a plaster silica mold and turn out a glass brain. Right?  Wrong.

The model I found was perfect; but by the time I was finished filling all the under-cuts with clay the model seemed to lose most of its definition. The crisp lines that made the model so perfect were disappearing.  We proceeded with the process anyway. After giving our brain a nice coat of Vaseline as a release so the plaster wouldn’t stick to it, we made a fancy two-part box to cast our plaster mix in.  Carefully, we divided the hemispheres with shims so we could have a natural part line and in the end, after almost two months of work – Disaster!  The brain would not release from its plaster confines. And to add insult to injury, a second attempt didn’t turn out any better.

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

It was then that I realized that mold making is an art form in and of itself and should not be taken lightly.  In the meantime my customer was politely asking for her brain and I just had to keep telling her “soon, very soon”.  But the truth of the matter was,  I didn’t have a clue at this point how I was going to make that brain. And I spent the next month or so wracking my own brain as to how I was going to get it done.

kelly brain, Hillsborough NJ, Bellemead Hot Glass Robert Kuster
kelly brain, Hillsborough NJ, Bellemead Hot Glass Robert Kuster

After much deliberation I decided to “go old school” and sculpt it at the bench.  I took a few days to fiddle around and make some “brain embossing tools”.  And then after a few more days to get the feel for them, I sat down, and with surprisingly little effort and a little help from Scott and Kelly -we got the job done.

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

It’s now March of 2016 already and my customer is still (even after this long wait) talking to me. What did I learn from all this?  I guess the most important thing is that my customer was more gracious and forgiving than I ever could have been. And also, that I’m very grateful that I was given enough time and space to pull it off.