Harbor Style Harbor Style Oct 2017 : Page 78

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Bakers & Marble Makers

Robin Gardner

HARBOR STYLE delves into the science behind glass art and meets some local artisans who specialize in the craft.

What happens when you combine emotion with science? In the art world, glass art.

Glass art may look as if it’s created by magic, but cultures have been making glass for practical and decorative uses for centuries. Aside from naturally occurring glass, such as obsidian, glass was first created by humans in Mesopotamia or ancient Egypt in the third century BC. Glass blowing is believed to have been discovered sometime in the late second century BC and was embraced by the Roman Empire. The Middle Ages saw an explosion of stained glass windows and the famed Venetian glass from Murano, considered by many to be the birthplace of modern glass art.

But the artisan glass art we know today only come to the forefront about 50 years ago, in the early 1960s during the “studio glass movement.” A ceramics professor, Harvey Littleton from the University of Wisconsin, become a pioneer in modern glass art. He began to explore the possibilities of glass art, shattering the belief it could only be done “on the factory floor.” His aim was to bring it into the individual art studio. He started by offering two experimental workshops in 1962 at the Toledo Museum of Art, and the following year he created the first official college program in glass art.

Around the same time, Dale Chihuly was studying interior design at the University of Washington. He began to play around with fusing and melting glass and figured out how to weave glass into tapestries. In 1966, Chihuly, unarguably the most well-known American glass artist, headed to UW-Madison to study glassblowing under Littleton and push the movement forward with great gusto.

Types of Glass Art

Glass art is divided into three techniques: hot, warm and cold. “Cold” glass technique is stained glass. It is called “cold” because typically the glass used in stained glass is not heated. The lead or cooper that is used to hold the stained glass together is soldered.

“Warm” glass technique is also called “kiln forming,” using high temperature in a kiln to shape the glass. It’s called warm because the artist heats the glass but doesn’t typically interact with the glass when it’s hot. The two main types of “kiln forming” are casting and fusing.

“Hot” glass technique is blown glass. Glass blowers actively manipulate the glass while it’s at temperatures higher than even 1,500 degrees.

Blowing vs. Kiln Forming

Blown glass is created with a technique that involves inflating molten glass into a bubble by blowing into a blowpipe.

The typical studio or workshop is filled with a lot of hot things. To start with, a furnace where the clear glass is melted. The melted glass is held in a crucible and is formed and re-formed in a glory hole. There is also an oven that keeps the ends of blowing pipes hot and an annealing oven to slowly cool down the piece.

The piece starts when the glass blower reaches into the furnace and crucible and gathers a layer of the molten liquid clear glass on the end of his blow pipe.

The glass blower manipulates his piece by swinging it, rolling it and shaping it with tools or in a mold. The artist must keep the glass piece evenly heated and not allow it to get too cold. This is accomplished by placing the glass in a piece of equipment called a “glory hole” that re-heats the glass, or the artist may re-heat it using a torch. Most glass blowing is done at a temperature between 1,600 and 1,900 degrees.

This is when the color is added. Colored glass in various forms – powders, frits and bars – are used by the glass blower to create the design or add patterns to the piece. The heated glass on the pipe is rolled over the color, picking up pieces with each roll, and then gets re-heated in the glory hole, where the color melts into the clear glass. It is constantly being turned to keep the shape.

Glass blowing takes constant motion. Once the color is added, then the blowing begins.

Fusing glass was popular in the Greek and Roman Empires and continues to be popular for glass artists today. When glass is placed into the kiln, it softens and shapes. Depending on what kind of result an artist is looking to achieve, there are many different techniques – slumping, draping and casting are all done in the kiln. Glass fusing involves heat that bakes the glass at degrees between 1,100 and 1,700 degrees.

Fused glass doesn’t involve heating the glass all the way to a liquid state. Basically, the object starts as multiple pieces of glass heated just enough for them to bond together and is done on a flat surface in the kiln. That piece is then put back into the kiln on top of a mold and heated just enough for it to sag into the shape of the mold, which is called slumping or draping.

Casting an object is when glass is melted with high heat and fills a mold. The piece will take the shape of the mold as it cools. Glass casting is done using blocks of glass called billet or ground glass called frit.

Using this method, the artist will either put the glass directly into the mold before it’s heated, or they may place it into a special chamber above the mold to let the hot liquid glass run into the mold. The pieces can take on many different shapes that aren’t possible with fused glass, because the artist isn’t using sheet glass.

Here is where science intrudes even deeper. Successful fusing only happens with glass pieces that have matching “coefficients of expansion.” Now, don’t go running off in fear with flashbacks to high school chemistry. What this means is how much the material expands and contracts in each change of temperature. If the coefficients of expansion don’t match, what are called “large thermal stresses” will form in the piece and will eventually lead to cracking and breakage. This technique involves a lot of experimenting to make sure all the glass has compatible COEs.

Controlling the temperature of the glass is a huge challenge. Cooling hot glass too fast causes it to shatter, and when heated too fast, “thermal shock” will also cause it to shatter. Even if it doesn’t shatter immediately, heating or cooling can cause a weakness that will cause the glass to crack later. Glass artists can use digital controllers to help regulate the temperature and keep the rates of change more exact.

FYI: Among glass blowers, kiln-forming artists are known as “bakers,” and “bakers” sometimes call blowers “flower, pumpkin or marble makers.” Both blowers and fusers are extremely passionate about glass art, and share the same love of glass. All that differs is their approach to the medium.

Local “Bakers” & “Marble Makers”

Rich Fizer

Artist Rich Fizer is a local glass blower with a worldwide reputation. He has been blowing glass for more than 28 years.

“I started when I was in college in 1989. Boy, that sounds like a long time ago when you say it out loud,” he said.

Fizer was studying art at Georgia Southwestern State University, the only school in Georgia with glass blowing. However, that was not the art he was initially studying. His freshman year he took a ceramics glass. The glass blowing studio was next door; he took interest and changed his focus to glass. He was attracted by its movement and the fluidity of the material.

“When you make a piece and put it in the oven, it’s pretty much done the next day. I love the fluidity and the involvement with the material,” he said.

The process of ceramics, he thought, was too involved. “With glass it was instant gratification,” he said.

So how does it all start? “Basically, glass starts out as sand. The glass I use comes from the North Carolina mountains. There are 27 other things added to it to make it glass, so the reaction with the chemicals is what gives it its clarity, and the sand from North Carolina is the clearest glass available,” Fizer said.

It’s all pre-mixed. He doesn’t make his own glass because it’s not really cost effective. Glass is not a cheap medium. “It costs more than bronze,” he said.

When it comes to COE, he shoots for a number is around 96. “That’s the number glass blowers use,” he said. “Car glass is 89. Pyrex is 105. You wouldn’t use like a Bud bottle to blow glass…kind of how oil paint is different from acrylic paint.”

Fizer likes to experiment with color and shape and heat. He sells his pieces all over the world, teaches workshops and has worked with Chihuly six times.

“Everyone knows Chihuly. He is an American born artist. If you ask someone to name an artist, he’s going to be the one they name. Not a lot of people know the name of an American painter who is alive right now. There are a lot more painters than glass blowers, but what he has done…he took normal shapes and made them big. He also had financial backing and was supported by wealthy people to make it happen,” he said.

Fizer’s inspiration comes from nature and water. He tries to stay near “blue water” and creates these beautiful “wave” pieces that are fluid and graceful. A typical piece takes one to two days, but depends on the size and manipulations of the glass.

“I try to make the negative space as important as the positive space in a piece,” he said. “It’s an interesting medium, because it accepts light like no other medium. You can see through and it casts a shadow. The shadow becomes part of the piece and as the shadow moves it becomes part of the piece,” he said.

“I just see things differently than most. You can look outside and see green, but I see a thousand different shades.”


Janie Duke

Janie Duke specializes in a type of glass fusion called pâte de verre, a process invented in France during the 19th Century. Pâte de verre is the technique of pressing glass powders or “frits” into a mold, resulting in a chipped ice or snowflake appearance.

This technique is a detailed and difficult form of kiln-forming. The frits give the finished work its distinctive luster and allows for specific placement of colors in the mold.

“It doesn’t look like that when you put it all in there,” Duke said. “It forms in the kiln with the heat once they are melted together. The frits, or individual pieces, that finely touch each other in the heat.”

Duke started as a glass artist seven years ago and is very active in the art community. She had friend who specialized this type of glass fusion and exposed her to the technique. Her husband bought her a kiln that she kept in their garage. For years she created her art out of her garage. Then about a year and a half ago, her husband started to restore cars in the same garage, and she felt the heat of the kiln and gasoline might not mix well! So she moved her artspace out of the garage and now shares a studio at Jack Vartanian & Friends on Taylor Street in Punta Gorda.

The process for the molds take several different steps just to create the mold that goes into the kiln. “It’s about a five-day process for one piece,” she said.

Duke gets her inspiration from her Florida surroundings – “The beach, the ocean, the sky. Look at the pieces, this is what I truly enjoy doing,” she said.

She added that she finds serenity in the process. She loves to play with and explore the color palettes and feels a sense of accomplishment when someone loves and appreciates a certain piece she’s created.

“Especially when they say they are reminded of the ocean. I’m like, ‘Yeah that’s exactly what that piece is,’” she said. “They get it.”


Lise Lindsay

“I love the science meeting the art,” Lise Lindsay said.

This local “baker” has a surprising background as a CPA and systems analyst. However, she is obsessed with the beauty of the glass and attracted to the thoughtful science behind glass fusion.

“There’s a big challenge when you start to combine glass,” she said.

The chemical reactions are what excites her, and she loves to experiment. “Sometimes it’s predictable, sometimes it’s not. I love that,” she said. “Both sides of the brain work. Sometimes I create functional pieces, sometimes abstract.”

There are a lot of signs that a CPA works in her studio. Things are catalogued and filed very specifically. Glass is sorted in several different ways, and then there is the thoughtful experimenting she does before each piece is created. Carefully mixing, heating and reheating to get just the right color or design she wants.

“It’s funny when I’m doing a lot of art I can’t even balance my own checkbook. I think you are exercising one side of your brain or the other,” she said.

Lindsay owned Creative Circles Studio and Gallery. That is when she began to do glass fusion. The studio closed four years ago. It was a “paint your own pottery, wheel pottery and some glass art” business. When she retired and closed the shop, glass became her focus. Lindsay now sells her art as a member artist at the Sea Grape Artists Gallery in Punta Gorda.

“I get excited by color. I will look at a beautiful cobalt piece of glass and just muse. Sit with the color and think, what would I like with this cobalt, maybe rust color,” she said.

“Sometimes I take bits of color and see what they do together. It takes a bit of science and a bit of organization,” she said.

There’s a lot of heart and passion that goes into each piece that Lindsay creates. It takes time and thought. There are hours of experimenting, designing, heating and reheating in each project. Perhaps the patience of an accountant works to her advantage.

“Instant gratification is not something you get when working with glass,” she said.


Read the full article at http://trendmag2.trendoffset.com/article/Bakers+%26amp%3B+Marble+Makers/2878132/437192/article.html.

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