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

 

 

The Lotus Series

A chandelier Inspired by A Yoga practice

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" aqua Lotus Chandelier Robert Kuster
20″ aqua 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.

 

Chandeliers in the home

Below are just a couple of examples of some of the unique chandeliers we’ve produced for homeowners all over the world.

Someone recently asked me how many chandeliers I’ve made, and I realized that I just didn’t know. Although I believe it’s at least three or four thousand, it would be a lot of work to go back over all those old orders and make a count.  The chandeliers we create for peoples homes are always special because we are, in a sense, being invited into their home. Each space, and each  customer is unique. There’s a special satisfaction that comes from working through the challenges of each persons vision and creating a work of art that’s not only beautiful on it’s own but also in harmony with the home and the taste of those who live there.

Because we build all of the parts for the chandeliers right here at Belle Mead Hot Glass we have the freedom to experiment with shape and color and material until we capture just the right idea.  We have built wall sconces in narrow spaces where it seemed like nothing could give the perfect feel and could possibly fit. We have evoked gondolas and fire and flowers in sizes from under two feet to an illuminated “bonfire” sculpture that was every bit as big as a real bonfire.

Variety is the Key

When we first started making chandeliers, we started with three basic parts which complemented each another rather well. The pod a rounded oblong shape with a twisted tail about 16″ to 18″ long, the horn a long twisting narrow shape about 20″ to 22″ long and the gourd which is pear shaped and about 4″ to 5″ in diameter by about 6″ in length. when these three shapes are all put together in somewhat equal proportions they produce a chandelier that has depth and almost comes to life as you move around it. If you have only one color which many clients have  chosen to go with its an amazing piece. If you add multiple colors you get an explosion of color that’s sure to amaze all that see it.

The next logical step

The next logical step was to add accents. A short list includes flowers like tulips, roses ,irises,lillies, and poppies. In an earlier blog we mentioned the addition of sea-life, such as shells, starfish and seahorses. Making chandeliers according to a theme is a great way to showcase a customers love for the things that inspire them. We always welcome a challenge and if a request is something we haven’t done before all the better we love to try new things.

 

One interesting thing that we do here is upgrading, maintaining and retrofitting work from the past. It’s a service we are happy to provide and gives us an occasional tour through past years projects.  Some recent projects in this vein have included splitting a chandelier into two sconces in order to transition it from the entry of a family home to the dining room of a home the couple had recently purchased for retirement. This winter we re-lit a chandelier, switching from halogen to LED for a homeowner seeking to “go green”. And last week we completed a “nuts and bolts” cleaning of a chandelier in a home that had been flooded.  We truly want to create personalized pieces for individuals.

It always comes back to trust. Our customers trust that they are going to get a work of art that will live with them for many years to come. Whether a new construction project, a remodel or and upgrade for an existing work, our chandeliers bring a special kind of joy no matter where they live.

Sea Life Series

Inspired By The Sea

Every so often a client comes to us  with a very clear vision of what it is that they want. In this case the couple came from a small seaside town in Europe, they were building a summer house near Miami Beach Florida. The couple asked  if we could design a pair of custom chandeliers and two pairs of wall sconces that would evoke their love and memories of their seaside village back home.

 

We began the process with a color pallet that is light yet colorful. We started with various shades and opacities of white then began adding light blues, greens and seashell pink along with some accents of deeper blues.

The next step was to add in the sea life. These sculptural details add the life to the Sea Life theme. These include sea shells, seahorses, starfish, and some organic shapes that reference jellyfish and coral. Once all these choices had been made we started on the mock-up samples for approval.

This next part of the process is the portion we seem to enjoy the most. Composing the piece, we work each day at a pace that allows us to test our ideas as we go along, building, then changing, standing back to take a look and then making adjustments, fine-tuning the balance of color and then continuing until the piece is ready.  In this case this portion of the work took about a month.

 

The results were amazing, a complex visualization that looked like a coral reef  bursting with life. The clients were thrilled, and so were we. We continue to make this style of chandelier for other clients with no two ever ending up the same. With every new version we have the added benefit of our clients input, making each one a very special and unique piece.

Parx Casino Part One

Our Next large Scale Work

 

Our next big job came from the people at Parks Casino. This one was interesting on a few levels. First, it was a challenge because there was a fast approaching deadline. We were approached with the project in June and were expected to deliver in November.Usually a project of this size can use two months just deciding the basics such as size,colors, and the look and feel of the project. There are usually at least three rounds of back and fourth decision making before production starts. But in this case the owners were very hands on and were able to move things along nicely.

 

The scope of the job was simple enough, 2 chandeliers measuring 15’L x 10’W x 8’H and one larger chandelier measuring 18’L x 12′ W x 10′ H to be centered between the two smaller ones. This was the first time we had incorporated the two elements of the horns shapes and glass plates together. There were a lot of issues to resolve to make these pieces work together. In previous installations the horns had generally just hung from the framework of the chandelier. What we had to figure out was how to cantilever the plates off of that framework and articulate them so that they could be positioned just where we wanted them. What I came up with was a telescoping, double-jointed gizmo that we could bolt to the frame and then extend out and position precisely, mounting the plate at the end of the arm and further articulating the angle of the plate in its socket at the end of the arm.  The horn shapes could then be hung to flow out around the plates as you see in the pictures.

Another challenge in this project was organizing the installation. Because we didn’t belong to the union involved in the construction we had union members come to the studio and learn our installation process so that they could assemble the chandeliers onsite. We created a process together and the job came together smoothly.

Then, came the real test! Around July we were asked to produce Tapestry.  This work is composed of three ceiling panels measuring 45′ x 16′ filled with about eight hundred individually blown glass plates each measuring between 24″ to 40″ in diameter. Again, this all had to be engineered, produced and delivered by November. With the Casino opening scheduled for sometime in December our team went from six to nine people overnight. We worked seven day weeks from July to November to bring the project in on time. I don’t think I had a single day off, but in the end, the owners were thrilled with our work.

Resorts World NY: Part 1

They said it couldn’t be done

When I got the call from the architect, he told me he wanted my input on a job they were working on in New York. It was for a piece that would hang from the ceiling in a 90 foot building.

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster ,Resorts World NYC
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster ,Resorts World NYC

An Articulation

It was to be called the Light Of Nations. It was 68 feet long by 12 foot in diameter. The perimeter was to have three sets of intersecting rings, with 8 foot strands of crystal beads spaced 1 inch apart (you do the math). At the center was a spiral column of beads 45 foot long that had to turn at about 6 RPM And here’s the kicker the owners wanted to put a Christmas tree under it so we had to be able to raise and then lower the center column of beads when the tree was gone. Electrically and mechanically you would think it would be an easy task, but they said they were told it couldn’t be done. of course and true to form I said why not? I don’t see a problem here. So they said if you can get this to work you’ve got the job.And of course as it turned out the problem wasn’t easily solved. It’s no problem raising and lowering the column or turning it independently. But the two together was a problem. What you wind up with is a bunch of twisted wires. So after much brain crunching, I finally came up with a solution. I came in from overhead with the wires that connected to an electric rotating coupling  device. All I had to do was mount the lift mechanism to a heavy duty turntable driven by a 1/4 horsepower gear motor and carefully line up the rotary electrical connector. It was perfect.

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

The bubbles

The next Item on the list were the bubbles in shades of Red, orange and yellow to clear. Making them was a no brainier,  But they wanted each bubble to have a country name on it. in Platinum. After much research I decided to go with a decal. They were actually made with platinum ink.I found a company in Germany to do it. We did the research and came up with what was at the time 208 countries. I was amazed at just how often countries changed. from the start of the job to the end three countries had come and gone.

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

The above photo shows the Light of nations with some missing strands of beads. One day in October They decided to open all the buildings front doors, a gust of wind came through blowing the turning center columns beads into the stationary outer beads causing a bit of a tangle. The problem has since been corrected by weighting the bottoms of the center columns strings of beads.

 

Virginia Beach Public Library Glass Fireplace

In the beginning

On or about May 1st Belle Mead Hot Glass was contacted by Neva White Of the Virginia Public Library. She told us that the library had an L shaped fireplace that was originally intended to be an actual working fireplace. The problem was the zoning and permitting process was cost prohibitive, So she wanted to know if we had any thoughts on how we could fill the space. which was a 12 foot by 8 foot long 4 foot high and 36 inches deep. Neva provided us with a couple of photos and an architectural rendering. At some point I was introduced to Matt. Who was helpful in deciding some of the details of the project such as lighting. He thought it would be nice if the installation could be lit from underneath which could simulate a fire effect. What we decided on was a series of about 40 LED strip lights would be controlled using a DMX controller (DMX512, a communications protocol that is most commonly used to control stage lighting and effects). The effect was great each node or  strip was being altered or controlled by the controller to create a fire effect.

What’s next

We spent a few minutes talking about some possibilities. and began the process of making samples. we provided a 1/2 dozen shapes using different colors and techniques.

Mock-up

After a specific style and range of colors was decided upon, we started making a small scale mock-up which led to a full scale piece which we submitted for approval.

Installation

A critical  point was that it had to be installed before the end of June.

Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, NJ

Belle Mead Hot Glass is proud to announce that we have been asked to complete a project for Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, NJ. In 2007, Belle Meade Hot Glass was initially contracted to create a ceiling display – a fiery chandelier which is the centerpiece of their main dining room.

Belle Meade Hot Glass is currently building three separate ceiling displays. Each piece will measure 6’x10′. In total this installation will require over 120 individual plates. It is expected to be completed over the next three months.

Read more information about our completed installation and Restaurant Nicholas here.