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.

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.

A touch of spring

 

It’s early March and the promise of spring is just around the corner. And with that promise comes memories of dogwood and cherry blossoms.  Although Robert Kuster has been playing with the idea for some time, observing the awakening going on in the garden here brought  this new installation to fruition in the gallery.  The classic form of the flowering cherry is timeless and universal. It is a symbol of the fleetingness of the spring and also now of friendship and peace.  Seeking to honor that form and bring its beauty inside – Blooming Branches took shape.

 

The Blooming Branch Installation is a unique combination of an intricate and detailed metal branch and the bright and glossy cherry blossoms.  This branch was actually cut here at Belle Mead Hot Glass in the metal shop to correspond to the branch of a real cherry tree.  The form was enlarged and altered as needed to fit precisely into the gallery space we wanted to fill.   We’ve also been experimenting here with integrating the glass flowers into painted branches in murals or trompe l’oeil, or in other applications where the wall contours or surfaces might make the steel branch less appropriate. Working from the needs of the space, we create a lifelike branch form in whichever material is most appropriate to the environment.  And then, after meticulously sculpting the flowers, simply fill the branches emulating Spring Herself.

At only 2 inches in depth off the wall surface, the Blooming Branch integrates easily into spaces where 2-dimensional art might seem to be the only option.  Although it was created to bring the natural world inside it is equally suitable for creating a beautiful and natural aesthetic in the out-of-doors.   Using our mounting systems developed here at the shop, the Branches can be mounted in any sheltered place, such as a patio or garden wall.

If you are interested in the Blooming Branches for your home, or business, please contact us at 908281 5516

Robert Kuster Bellemead Hot Glass Cherry Blossom
Robert Kuster Bellemead Hot Glass Cherry Blossom

 

This Cherry Branch is 36″ tall by 72″wide; each hand-sculpted flower ranges from between 5″ -5.5″. The wall clearance on this form is very low. At only two

 

 

Honey I Shrunk the Plates!

Little size big Possibilities

Some artist like to “go big”. Jeff Koons sculpts giant balloon animals. Christo and Jeanne-Claude drape huge public buildings in fabric. After many successful installations of large glass-scapes incorporating some fairly big blown glass plates filling areas as expansive as 2,500 square feet, I wondered about the possibilities that would be inherent only in “going-small”. And that is how the “Scatter” series began. This series of both large and small groupings appears like flowers blossoms tossed into the breeze to scatter naturally as they fall or a a gathering of butterflies.

mini plates 01

The individual plates are lightweight and simple to install. In custom colors, they add a spark to spaces both large and small, indoors and out. They are low profile; sitting relatively flush against the wall (about 1″). They are as perfect for stairways, kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and other high traffic areas as they are for clustering in quiet meditative spaces. They are unaffected by moisture and other out-door elements, and so are an excellent choice for more exposed areas where textile and paper arts might suffer.

In small groupings they create an intimate feel, like a small vase of flowers, in a corner by a favorite chair, in a powder room or on a patio. In larger groupings they can create the organic feeling of a flock of birds wheeling or a drift of flowers on a hillside.

Bellemead Hot Glass Mini plate series
Bellemead Hot Glass
Mini plate series

Due to the adaptability of the in-house designed mounting system these plate compositions can mount to almost any surface in a home or business. And, because of the light weight of the individual pieces and our special mounting system these plate compositions can float right up the wall and onto the ceiling seamlessly.

These “Scatter” forms measure from 4″ to 5″ and are always custom made. If you would like more information about a grouping for your space, please contact us.

Small

Belle Mead Hot Glass featured in the Montgomery Sun

The Montgomery Sun featured Belle Mead Hot Glass in their July 2012 edition. The author spent time with Robert Kuster and his team to learn about life in the studio. The article depicts what life is like inside a glass blowing studio (during a summer heat wave!) – as well as highlights some basic facts about Kuster’s better known installations.

The article also gives the history of Belle Mead Hot Glass – from Kuster’s humble beginnings as an amateur glass blower to a nationally recognized artist. Belle Mead Hot Glass is located on Rt. 206 (Southbound) and borders Belle Mead and Hillsborough, NJ. You can read the full article here.