And so, after three and a half months of constant work and preparations we had the Acuity installation extension ready to go.
10 Pallets composed of 8 double-tall boxes each, measuring 4′ x 4 x 7′ plus the two metal spheres were assembled on our loading dock and carefully maneuvered onto an air ride trailer. For this kind of installation we simply hire the entirety of a truck. Moving this fragile load and coordinating the meetings between the glass and ourselves and the crews onsite can be a tricky thing. So, working with one driving team and their representatives can simplify things for us. This time, our driver was great and stayed in contact with us throughout the 48 hours that the transit took. He even stopped to text and see that we were ok when a storm caused flight delays on what he anticipated would be our route. And do you know what? It was a good thing he did, because we were delayed! It is a pleasure to work with people who are so considerate and care so much about their job. (thanks Mekonen!)
Here we are unloading the truck… This was a whole lot of glass to move and get sorted. Each box contained pieces assigned to a specific sphere, and further to a panel on the sphere. Much time was spent jockeying these all into position. We were very grateful for the continuous and thoughtful help of Kurt Lodl, the Director of Facility Projects.
Although the staff here is pretty well qualified in hanging glass from ceilings… these spheres were big and also heavy!
Luckily for us, we had two great riggers from Hennes. Alfredo and Bob were great and we were glad to have them there taking care of the hanging of the spheres. Initially, the spheres are suspended only about 5′ off the floor. This allowed us to start hanging the spheres from down low.
Having the sphere within reach of the ground is a great deal easier than working on the scaffolds or lifts. After a few panels we began to get into the swing of things and find our flow.
That first day of hanging pieces was very long. Although we had tested and retested and trouble shot everything over and over back at the shop and this was even the second time we had installed these spheres for Acuity, there were still some nervous moments. But before long, our progress was evident even to our professional worrier and our system had proved itself.
In this image you can see the second sphere in its temporary position further down the hall.
About two years ago we finished the installation of one of the previous blog topics: this set of sculptures in the lobby of Embassy Suites at LAX.
These sculptures (they are spot lit from below instead of lit from within) were designed to bring some color and light to this very large, very tall atrium.
Although the space is not too high to hang them from the ceiling, due to earthquake considerations, it was determined that they wold be most secure if mounted on these metal poles.
Recently we we flew back out to LA to set do a little work on these three pieces and thought it would be a good time to update that blog…
The atrium of the hotel had undergone a huge renovation during the intervening years. And, although the sculptures were often draped the dust had accumulated through the renovating and redecorating process. This type of cleaning isn’t often necessary, but after such a messy and complex renovation it is often a good idea to finish the redecorating process with a deep clean of the work. And so, with the cleaning and re-hang already on the table we began talking about any changes that the hotel might wish to make.
The atrium had been changed over from a warm pale gold tone to be subtle ecru with warm dark wood and blue accents. The colors of the glass still functioned beautifully in place. In the morning they glow like little suns and in the evening, when the glass ceiling above is dark and the sculptures are lit from below, they create a warm, cozy feeling inside the giant space of the atrium. But, this was an ideal opportunity to add just that kind of touch that finishes a space.
In consultation with the designers and decorators, investors and management we chose to integrate a small amount of blue into the sculptures. To do this we worked in two colors of blue. These blues, when viewed in various lighting conditions, blend the blues of the new accent colors thoroughly into the glass.
After taking all of the glass down, we cleaned each piece with glass cleaner and soft cloths and then began to re-hang the chandelier. As we re-hung the pieces we intermixed the two blue tones and the new blue plates in proportion with the red and yellow and orange that comprised the originals.
Overall the effect is striking. At night, when the chandelier is lit from below, the effect is much more dramatic than before. And during the day the bright spots of blue definitely catch your eye and connect the glass more closely to the accents scattered throughout the great atrium space.
We’re recently begun tagging posts on a new app called Fyuse. This app allows us to show you a great 3-dimensional view of a chandelier. It’s free and a whole lot of fun. If you download it, just search for the hashtag #bellemeadhotglass. Hope to see you there!
Recently while scrolling through my Facebook feed I came across a video of a young glassblower. This up-and-coming young man started in my shop quite a few yeears ago. And, having been absorbed in my own work, I was startled to see how much he has developed as an artist.
In about 2004 or 2005, a father began dropping in to the shop. He said he had a son who passionately wanted to learn to blow glass. And he said his son would do anything, sweep, tidy, pack, if he could just get a chance to be around glass. Mike (the father) told me his son didn’t care if he got paid, he was just on fire to learn about glass. Well, we weren’t hiring at that moment; but, Mike continued to drop by and get to know us all over at the shop. And then, one day, we had an opening and Jake Pfiefer was hired. I have never had an unpaid member of staff. I do believe that if a person is willing to work they should be paid for their efforts.
For the next few years Jake worked hard in the cold-working shop processing and packing the glass we had made the day before. But, he always kept his eye on the hotshop. Eventually, Jake’s persistence paid off again and he began to work in the hotshop. First, he worked putting the little glass loops on each ornament or chandelier piece. This is the first rung on the ladder in the hotshop; it’s not a big step up, but it got him in the hotshop.
Over time, as with most employees who are ambitious, Jake moved on to bigger and better things. This doesn’t always happen, most people who start in glass give up somewhere along the way. For many reasons glass is a very difficult medium to master. The pitfalls can be enormous. The heat in summer alone is enough to bar the way for many people. The expense of working in glass is daunting, as is the ability to master technique and find proper instruction and training. But, as is true with so many things, there are always a few who rise to the top and achieve a level unimagined just a few years before. Sometimes they rise because of some innate ability, luck and opportunity certainly have something to do with it and sheer determination will often bring success. Sometimes, its a combination of all three.
It has been many years since Jake left us to continue on his path as a glass artist. I had never really stopped to imagine how far he would get. Over the years I’ve followed his progress though friends and social media but although I was glad to hear he was still at it and proud of what I knew of his progress it wasn’t until the other day that I got to see how far his work has progressed. Jake has assembled a body of work that utilizes many difficult and complex techniques that only work when done well. He has developed true command over the forms he creates and a great sense of color. Who knows, maybe he will be the next “Glass Master of the Universe” ?
(special thanks to all the staff who have worked with Belle Mead Hot Glass over the years, all success and never stop trying to be the next “Glass Master of the Universe”)
Here is that video of Jake, take a look!
Coming up next?
installations in Florida
Instllations in LA
Installations in Wisconsin
And, “how to train your dragon” or “maintaining a glass furnace!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
About seven years ago Janet and I met at her studio In Balance, a center dedicated to well being. She was running the business out of a rather small 1000 square foot building. This was not a lot of space for all of the activities she was running. The yoga room was 15′ x 25′. If there were more than 6 people in the room it felt crowded. After a year the building seemed to shrink and it was time to grow the business.
Fortunately, the property had another building and the owners wanted to sell. So, throwing caution to the wind we purchased the property. With the second building’s additional 2000 square feet Janet had room to grow her business. And we began the arduous process of gutting, then rebuilding the space for her purposes. The main focus of the new building was going to be yoga. At 25 by 45 feet the new yoga room seemed huge. I installed a sprung floor, a cool technology that was originally designed for dancers and gymnasts. This, combined with a radiant heated floor and pristine white walls created a perfect studio. But something was missing, this was a special space and needed something extra special in it. I felt the lighting needed work so I began to look for inspiration.
Looking for inspiration
One day on a family outing to the Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton NJ, there it was. A beautiful lotus flower in a pond, one of a hundred or so, captured the feel I was looking for. The blossom that caught my eye was a beautiful shade of purple. The rest was easy, and the next day I began work on a pair of 48 inch diameter glass lotus blossoms.
20″ Lotus chandelier Robert Kuster
42″ Lotus Chandelier Robert Kuster
42″ Lotus Chandelier Robert Kuster
Jigs are the key
Just like everything I create I use my systematic approach of succeed and fail. We make the basic decisions for size and color, work on the interface of how the glass attaches to the metal framework. then we begin making a bunch of different sizes and shapes of parts. The next step is to see how they all fit together, put the unusable parts aside for now, then go to round two of making more pieces. Whenever possible we make jigs that allow us to slump or bend a piece to keep the pieces more uniform. The extra step of making jigs takes awhile but if you ever want to make more than one of something they’re a huge help. Just make sure you take lots of notes and don’t forget where you put the jigs. Its amazing how easy it is to forget a small detail or step that was a big time-saver in the past. I found not to long ago that keeping a notebook or journal about a project helps when it comes time to recreate it.
Once we have all the pieces figured out and made it’s time to put the chandelier together. We found that over the years on a piece of this type it’s easier to do the initial assembly upside down on the bench. If everything goes together well we add the lights and do another installation in our gallery. We want to make sure everything fits together properly. More importantly we want to make sure there are no surprises for the client.We photograph the piece, crate it up and ship it out.
In addition to the two purple lotus chandeliers we’ve made a dozen or so red, yellow and orange ones for Fogo de Chou and several of different colors schemes for other clients. We have also made well as a 72 inch by 36 inch Lotus for the dining room of a yacht, which I’m sorry to say I don’t have a picture of.