Tag Archives: glass

I Have an Addiction

Corning Glass Tower (Corning Museum)

I never thought I would have an addiction to such a thing, but I do. How do I know it’s an addiction? Well, it is affecting my life, I need it every few days, I can’t get enough.

But this addiction isn’t what I’d call detrimental. At least I don’t think it is. It’s about glass, and that’s not a fancy name for a new designer drug. Corning Glass has done this amazing video of what the future can hold in the way of sensitive, touch enabled glass. I’m not going to explain it all here; just watch the video, A Day Made of Glass.

But why am I completely enthralled with this? I don’t know. I’m mesmerized through the full five minutes of the Utopian future depicted. What do I love about it? Let me count the ways.

  • It uses a multiracial family.
  • The music is so positive and uplifting and bright that I sometimes just play it in the background.
  • It presents ways of working with glass that defy the term glass and in fact I wonder if some would be plastic. It does so in so many ways, from darkening a bedroom window to bringing up news reports and messages on the bathroom mirror, to playing with photo images, cooking food, GPS, messaging, interactive meetings, getting bus maps, talking, video, you name it.

The masterminds of this piece have done an excellent job. And it’s all done with no words, just music and action. Obviously they have computer technology coupled with glass, but the possibilities are wonderful. I don’t just like this. I absolutely love it. Yes, truly. It makes me feel good to watch it, it buoys my spirit and gives a possibility of a future that can be bright, not one of war and oil crises, soaring prices and people unable to afford to live. And it’s all clean at least in the looks. How it will be made and what the circuitry will consist of, I don’t know but glass has been with us for thousands of years.

Corning has me hooked. Maybe it’s because I’m an SF writer as well but I actually do watch this about every second day and will continue to do so until the wonder wears off. http://www.corning.com/index.aspx

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The Death of Art Glass

You might be wondering what art glass is. It’s any piece of glass that’s not utilitarian. Vases, stained glass, goblets, plates, paper weights and other items that are made by hand. They’re rarely mass-produced unless you’re looking at huge glass factories like Waterford crystal (you can see more about that factory in my Ireland blog pieces). There are two categories of art glass: cold and hot. Cold glass is taking pieces that already existed and making something of them, whether that is cutting and gluing them together, sandblasting them or using as part of other art pieces. Hot glass involves slumping, blowing, lampworking or otherwise molding molten glass using a furnace (or other heat source) and a kiln.

Blown glass is expensive for several reasons. A batch of glass without impurities must be kept molten at all times. This requires running a gas furnace 24/7 at a precise temperature. If the furnace has to be shut down, the glass has to be cooled and reheated slowly and can take up to two weeks to attain the right temperature. So it’s not feasible to shut off a furnace each night. Imagine your gas bill for heating your home and then multiply it to a temperature to keep glass molten (2400°F) and you might just fathom the cost. On top of that you need another heated furnace area for working the glass, called the glory hole, and at least one annealing kiln. Without cooling the formed glass gradually it will develop stresses and break.

Beyond the heating and maintenance of molten glass, there is the expense of a studio and the equipment. As well, every color in glass must be bought and added when blowing. These colors must also be pure and compatible with the basic clear glass in the crucible. Before even blowing the glass, the costs are huge.

Then comes the training. Glass blowing is not easy. It takes years of constant work to perfect the craft. One must be able to blow several glasses of the same size, with the same thickness (and not too thick or uneven) as well as even color if you’re making a set of something. You must be able to blow items round that should be round and oval if they’re oval. You have to maintain great skill in keeping openings even, patterns working, colors mixing. Anyone fresh out of college will still need years to perfect their craft.

And then you have to hope you can sell the pieces. Seattle has a fairly vibrant art glass community, courtesy of the Pilchuck Glass School. Some of those graduates are in BC and other areas, but Canada has a problem for supporting the arts. Our population is about 34 million, which is probably similar to the population of New York or California. When you take a percentage of people who support the arts or can afford to buy it, you get much fewer people, but the cost of producing the art is still the same. Canada is at a huge disadvantage. Yet, to market art can take as much time as making the art itself.

Thus, with our slumping economy, the arts have been nosediving. Vancouver used to have quite a few hot glass studios. The hardest to maintain were the glassblowing studios because of the costs. These included Andrighetti Studio, Joe Blow, David New-Small, Robert Held, Starfish Gallery in Victoria, Molten Spirit Glass Studio in Roberts Creek, and Solart Glass Studio in West Vancouver. Jo Ludwig in Victoria does slumped and fused glass, which negates the need for furnaces and glory holes, thus greatly reducing the cost. Joel Berman in Vancouver does architectural walls and windows. There are many other studios doing architectural glass whether molded or stained glass. A few do the kiln slumping. And fewer the glass blowing.

Joanne Andrighetti stopped blowing and running her studio due to exorbitant rent increases in  a trendy area. She does lampworked glass now. Joe Blow, run by Jeff Burnette is the latest to fall into the embers of the tight economy. Both of these studios taught classes, besides renting space to other blowers. Starfish Gallery also closed a while back.

There may be a few other studios which I haven’t mentioned that are still going. Some have a prime location like the Granville Island studios that get a good chunk of tourist trade. Other studios do production line art glass and commissions for such places as Waterford crystal. But the places for one of a kind art glass are truly shrinking and it’s too bad. It’s too bad I don’t have the means to support these and other arts more. It’s too bad that Jeff has had to end a thirty-plus year career in blowing.  I’ve heard similar tales from other artists in other forms of art.

Here’s an example of what some former glass artists are doing to make ends meet.  G is slinging fish for pay and taking HD photos for fun, and M is selling sausage and painting. E is making cheese. The skill to make art takes as long as any other skill-set or doctorate. Without art we lose beauty, a resting place for the eye and mind to replenish itself and make it through the every day.

So, if you want a deal on art from two artists now struggling to make ends meet go to Joe Blow Glassworks as Jeff is selling off his glass pieces, and Eric Montgomery (a cold glass and artist) is having a sale on some of his pieces. You could end up with a unique piece of a dying or shrinking art form that has existed for thousands of years.

Contact Jeff Burnette here:http://www.joeblowglassworks.com/1.html

Contact and see Eric Montgomery’s works here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=137615&id=654211188&l=bdeb910c32


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Waterford, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Waterford Crystal

This is nearing the end of the pictures from my Ireland trip in the fall of 2007.

Waterford was one of the last stops on the Irish trip, and on a Saturday. We didn’t know if the crystal factory was open as some guidebooks and maps said no while others said yes. It turned out it was so we zipped in after the Lismore adventures and a short stop at Carrick on Suir to see the disappointing and locked (and fenced) supposed Castle Ormonde. This wasn’t a castle at all but a manor house, very plain and maybe three stories high. Previous incarnations were probably a real castle but no evidence was left of this. Booo! I highly recommend not bothering to see it.

So we made it to Waterford with enough time to browse the shops and go on the hour tour. I have a fair number of friends who are glass artists so it was quite amazing to see a glassblowing factory of this size. There were several buildings and although it was a Saturday there was at least one or more people working in each section.

There was the special section for one-of-a-kind molds. Some molds are made of wood and used to shape the glass. The molds may only be used a few times (the wooden ones) before the high heat of soft glass starts to burn into the wood, but wood is still better than using metal which will expand with heat and change the size. It’s used for more specific and high-end pieces. A technique used for hundreds of years and not changed much.

In another building was an assembly line of blowers blowing into molds. These molds were smaller, for glasses and such and often of metal. There was a conveyor belt where the finished pieces were put before moving on to the annealer (where glass is cooled at specific temperatures so that it doesn’t crack and break). And people lined up with each blower to change the molds. Other areas held  row on row of cutters, because we’re talking crystal and that means cutting it, and another smaller room for engravers. The engravers are the only workers in the factory who aren’t paid by the piece because it could take months to engrave one piece. As well, there was a quality inspection area. Every single piece is inspected and must pass high standards.

All the pieces are hand blown or molded, and hand cut or engraved. Then these pieces of crystal are put through a hydrochloric acid bath that takes off the sharp edges and white brushed look to the glass. I remember some older pieces of crystal goblets my mother had which had sharp edges. Obviously the acid baths are of a newer era. To me, I kept thinking they weren’t crystal because of the soft edges but I was wrong on that.

I ran into a glass artist here in Vancouver who said that their local studio did an order for Waterford (Waterford has factories in various countries). Waterford Crystal’s Q&A (quality and assurance) team came over and the studio only had a 50% acceptance rate, the controls were so stringent. It was quite amazing to watch the cutting and engraving and the sheer size of the factory. I was curious how they got the rounded edges on the cuts. Now I know but I still don’t find crystal that appealing. Meh.

We drove on that evening to Kilkenny, home of the beer, of course. We almost lost our luck for B&Bs. We tried two pubs, asking if they knew of anything and were told everything was full. It was always better to ask where there were older people serving as the younger ones weren’t that friendly or helpful. We drove to three B&Bs that were all full and finally found a nice little house with a very friendly couple. Turns out Kilkenny is a college town where everyone comes on the weekend to party. And yes, it was the weekend.

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