This week has been the warmest so far this summer here at the shop. We’re not really sure how warm because the thermometer stops at a certain point…
The heat is often part of what draws people in to glass blowing…
It seems scary, and somewhat dangerous, but it sets this work apart. Glassblowers reading this post may roll their eyes at this. It’s considered uncool to complain about the heat in the glass blowing world. After all, it’s this warm everyday in some places…
That said we do pay close attention to hydration. We use lots of fans and cooling stations where we can take a moment to cool down. After all, we’re not crazy!
This last week has been a flurry of activity . With alterations to be made to an existing installation in California and a new set of installations in Florida upcoming over the next two weeks we are working double-time to keep pace with our scheduled project in Wisconsin…
Over the years I’ve made a few different sizes of Balloons in glass and a few different styles…
But, despite the complexity of the Dean Koons style animal sculptures, or the functionality of the hummingbird feeders I am constantly called back to the most traditional of forms. There is something about the juxtaposition of the expectation of a balloon with the startling reality of the balloon in glass that delights people.
When I began to make them they felt so laborious. Each balloon was a struggle and I worked for a long time to improve the essential “Ballooness” of the pieces. I made many balloons learning to handle the glass in such a way that the shape really looked like rubber filling with gas, so that the knot seemed like a real knot and so that the top of the balloon had just the contour and feel that I was looking for. Over time the process has become very natural. As I work I lwatch each one take shape in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has blown up a balloon part way and then stopped and held it away from themselves to see their progress…
I think most of the balloons I’ve made over the years are hung inside. I know that they are often found in nurseries, in care spaces for children and frequently given at weddings. I wonder if anyone out there has pictures of balloons I’ve made hanging somewhere in their life?
My favorite placement of the balloons that hang here at the shop is those that hang outside the shop. They are survivors, these balloons, and we can see them silhouetted against the sky at any time of day or any time of year looking as if they are just about to break free and sail off on a grand adventure…
What does it take to put together a project like these spheres?
First the concept, drawings and sketches, color choices, engineering and ordering materials; but then comes the actual assembly….
Each sphere is composed of 20 triangular panels measuring 3′ x 3′ x 3′. Each Panel is composed of 184 separate pieces of steel. Each of those is cut to length, and then prepped for welding. 112 pieces of steel make up the panel. Each of these is welded at both ends and then the individual pins to hold the glass are welded on…
This is 296 welds per panel. With twenty panels per sphere and then the welds to attach the panels to each other, it works out to about 6,020 welds per sphere. All done by Scott after we have emptied the crucible for the day blowing that days allocated assortment of the 13 sizes of Horns in the 4 colors we are working with for this project.
When the crucible is emptied and we have begun to charge the furnace with raw glass to work with for the next day, Scott begins his work in the metal shop. Kelly goes to work sorting and labeling the last day’s glass by size, polishing the sharp ends and sorting them into the set which will belong to each panel. Each panel has 72 individual horns and a sphere has 20 panels. Each sphere will have 1,440 individual horns. Also, each panel will have 1,140 urethane bumpers cast here in the shop
Bob runs between Scott and Kelly, answering questions, speeding processes along, telling everyone not to worry and worrying about everything himself. Running the operation smoothly requires someone who understands how to do each step. Someone has to keep an eye on the overall goal. And of course, someone has to work with the myriad of contacts required to work on a large installation in a busy construction project…
When all of the panels are done, they are welded together into the sphere. Then the sphere is painted. As is anything else nearby…
Once the paint is dry each of the 1,140 pins is sheathed in vinyl and given a bumper and a custom bracket to secure the glass.
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
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.
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.
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 moral of this story is “Do your research, ask an expert and think outside the box and you too can have a happy castle”
For this post I thought I would just check in with an update about the current shop goings-on…
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 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.
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.
It will look similar to the one below and will install on a deck where a real fire might be a very bad idea.
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…
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!!!
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.
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.
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!
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?
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….