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.
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.
I’ve written before about how flowers have been part of my fascination with glass from the very beginning. This has always played into one of my other great interests: gardens. Over the years I’ve integrated glass into the outdoor spaces in my life in numerous ways. From simple yard decorations such as finials, butterfly and birdfeeders and baths, to more complicated sculptural fountains and chandeliers.
One of the benefits of displaying art in the outdoors is that almost as a side effect we look at the area around the art differently. Doing that intentionally we can create focal points that cause us to look deeper into our environment. The changing feel of an installation highlights the landscapes transition through the seasons. It is endlessly interesting to see how an installation appears as it contrasts first against the winter spareness and then against lush foliage in spring.
We often use glass to bring the outside in; the Sealife series of chandeliers, floral chandeliers and many of the specific color palettes we create with our customers reference the outdoor spaces surrounding their indoor locations. But, we can’t forget the option of bringing the indoors out. Bringing design elements into the garden and blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living spaces unites both spaces. Even in climates where this isn’t possible to do in actuality, visually it works beautifully; creating a harmony and making all spaces feel tied together.
One of the most amazing properties of glass is it’s durability. What other material has such staying power? The medieval windows of stained glass appear to us with their colors intact. Using the climate considerations and good design as a framework and a guide we create sculptures that will stay for all seasons. When stopping by the studio people often ask about the glass garden here and how it fared during the hurricanes this area has experience in recent years. The truth is, we’ve done very well. We’ve never taken anything down in preparation, but rather let it hang as a test.
As the weather warms up, we are starting to work again on the garden here at the shop, integrating new things into the existing landscape, experimenting, and creating new areas for as yet unmade installations. We’re looking forward to integrating glass plates into stone walls, retrofitting some sculptures with LED lighting and honing the process on some completely new sculptural concepts that we’ve never experimented with before.
Trees don’t live forever, but a little while longer would be nice.
It’s always saddened me to see a tree die, whatever the reason. Trees give us shade, replenish our oxygen and they are home to countless creatures. They give us endless cycles of alternating beauty in the spring and fall. So, when the end is near I have always had a difficult time letting go, this applies especially to the big ones. I have personally tapped the maple trees on my properties for over 25 years. I know the trees I live with and have watched their lives over time.
Hurricane Sandy was especially hard on the trees here. I think I lost at least 20 mature trees during the storm and afterwards from storm damage. After the storm I had the large trees that were left standing trimmed and pruned. Those that couldn’t make it were trimmed and left standing in place. In some cases I had the bark removed. Seeing the beautiful grain, the whorls and burls of the trees growth is an amazing peek into its life cycle and endlessly fascinating.
After the Trimming
Over the last 26 years as a glassblower I’ve handled many large projects. Often, after completion we would find our self with a group of extra pieces which wind up taking up space and collecting dust in our studio. These are the spares we create to be ready for whatever might happen in transport and installation. So when it came time to make decisions about what to do with all the extras we weren’t “stumped” for long. Put it in the trees!
I remembered years ago an old friend of mine (Dave Bush) started hanging empty blue wine bottles from tree limbs. Or more accurately, he would slide the open end over a branch and create a beautiful blue bottle tree sculpture to glisten in the sun. With those charming bottle trees in mind and using what is at hand we now simply go through our supply of extras and decorate those beautiful old trees; adding a few extra years to what would ordinarily have been the end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.