Learning something totally new, in a span of ninety minutes, while taking photos, and trying to remember details and new vocabulary words, well, bottom line, let me just say up front you won’t be learning a lot about glassblowing in this post. 🙂 The photos stink too.
I’ll do my best but I’m prepared to be schooled by anyone (everyone) who knows more about glassblowing than I got out of Friday’s walk-through.
First of all, meet my dear dear friend Robin, the single most brilliant and talented person I know. A Harvard trained MD, a Harvard MBA, and CEO of a her own company where she advises the Department of Defense. Sure, who doesn’t do that??? In her spare time (ha!) she decided to take up glassblowing and it has become her passion. She shares studio space in North Cambridge (NoCa) with some other great glassblowers and she was generous enough with her time to take us on a tour.
It starts here, with the bin of cullets, a base material, glass waste they buy from a seller in Seattle (which I understand is the epicenter for glassblowing). Who knew?
From there Robin gathered the glass in the oven…Gather: The process of placing molten glass onto the end of a blowpipe – the end of the pipe is placed into the mass of furnace glass and twirled. The process of gathering is similar to using a dipper to take honey from a jar. Gather also is the name for the actual mass of glass on the end of the pipe at the beginning of the blowing process.
Then she spun the rod like a cheerleader with a baton and let it cool on the metal table (see first photo of Robin above).
Depending on what Robin planned to make, what shape and size, the piece would go into one of the Glory Holes to work it all around (don’t be the one, like me, to ask how they got that name! I learned very quickly that glassblowing terms and sex terms are one in the same!)
The room had several annealers, ovens heated to a specific temperature (I think Robin said 980, but it could have been 960 or 940, so don’t quote me) that takes the stress out of the glass. Any temperature higher than the recommended causes the glass to slump (a term that even I understood!)
A more concise description of the process from Mike Gigi dot com.
Before the glassblowing session begins, the pot furnace or tank furnace must be brought up to temperature (about 2050-2100°F) from the setting it held overnight (about 1800F to save fuel.)
(The process of melting batch or cullet to get workable glass is discussed here)
The glory hole for reheating must be brought up to temperature (~2200-2300F) as well as the controlled cooling annealers (~900F), preheating color oven, pipe heater, and garage. Depending on equipment design, these steps take about an hour. During this time, the artist is normally setting up the preheating of color bar and laying out stringer, frit, and powder (linked below as discussed), arranging tools, and pulling the previous day’s or afternoon’s work from the annealers. Pipes and punties are arranged in the pipe warmer for use during the session. Water is put in holding buckets and crack off bins/buckets , if used. If hand torches are used, they will be lighted or set out.
We didn’t have the time luxury of watching Robin take cullet from beginning to a finished piece (her regular studio time was not when we showed up) but we did walk through most of the workrooms…
Color color color – some colors Robin buys herself, shipped from Germany. Every color under the sun, and more. Opaque to transparent. From powder to large, called Frit sizes. Robin’s personal closet had so many jars and rods of color – the blacks were incredible and the reds, oh my. I’d be broke just buying all the colors.
The machines that look like potters wheels are to smooth the bottom of the piece, a slurry comes down from the bucket – each wheel has a different grade.
Then into the finish room where we were greeted with projects in varying degrees of finish.
Robin’s work is equally amazing and Mr. EOS is going to commissioner her to create a large striped bass for the Carriage House! Robin does a whole series called Fish on Wheels, a fabulously whimsical series, proving that genius runs through her veins in every aspect of her life.
A great morning and apologies for imparting so little wisdom on you.