I have been working on a guide for my inquisitive customers who have wanted to understand why blown glass is different from regular factory made glass. The guide will explain the physical properties of glass without getting bogged down in technical lingo.
The guide will explain best practices for the cleaning of glass and answers such questions as…..”can I put my glass in my dishwasher” with an answer that might surprise you!
The guide will help to explain how to store and display glass and what impacts glass the most in terms of its physical durability. Can you display glass outside and how is this done safely?
There is a section on lighting glass, with a number of useful tips for everything from large display pieces, platters, vases, sculptures, and paperweights. The guide explains the differences between fluorescents, incandescents, as well as L.E.D. lighting heads that have recently flooded the market.
This will be a quick read, easy to understand, and very useful for anyone who wants to put their glass in its best light. Written by a professional with nearly two decades of lighting glass professionally for product marketing as well as in the gallery. Help put my knowledge to work for you.
The guide will be available during my fundraising campaign on indiegogo for a limited time for a donation of just $1.00! In PDF format, anyone will be able to access this guide for use on the run, at home, or while in the field.
Look for the launch announcement here but get it on indiegogo.com once the announcement is made. The Care And Feeding Of Blown Glass, by Parker Stafford.
Today I am taking someone up on helping me write something about my campaign.
Parker Stafford, Owner and founder of Stafford Art Glass in Newport, Virginia, launches his crowdfunding campaign Lighting The Gaia Lamp to bring a new innovation in art glass and lighting to market. Normally Parker is accustomed to funding projects himself, but after a series of changes in his year financially, it has caused him to look differently at how funding is procured to bring new products to market. If the maker of the next new electronic gadget can raise thousands overnight, what keeps a designer studio in the New River Valley from business as usual? It was time to go back to the drawing board and think big so he could take the project large. It was time to leverage the power of the crowd now available to us courtesy of the internet.
The campaign centers on a line of work that was first designed in 2003 and has been in production for close to a decade. The glass, originally called “Rare Earth” is painted with the fire and intense heat of the glass artisan’s language that melts and makes a thousand small elements into one, in the fire of the furnace. This is a fire that is so hot that if you stand in front of it longer than a minute, your clothes will start to smoke before bursting into flame. You think I am joking. You might wonder, then, how it is that a glassblower could ever coax objects of crystalline beauty from such an extreme environment. It is a good question. But to understand this, you have to learn a little more about what Parker is doing here, because this is an even bigger mystery.
It is like a poet who bids the earth speak. It seemed something big enough to suggest Greek legends or myths. The name came as he hooked up the first vase. A light, literally, was lit in his mind.
“Rare Earth” is a complex and stirring design that employs a palette of golds, browns, and reds. The proprietary process that Stafford uses as the blow pipe is slowly but continually turned, results in a level of dimension that takes place within a thickness of glass that is less than 1/32 of an inch! It took him years to gradually grow and develop this design over the years, so what’s hinged into this work is a lot of back story work in the studio. The glass pieces that he makes in this line are much thicker than that, but this is the color layer that makes the clear glass what it is. It is an example of what this glass artisan is able to do to make his glass sing. When I tell him about this he smirks and says, “My favorite book of Native American speeches was entitled “Songs Of The Earth” and made a big mark on me early on in my high school days.”
It is like a poet who bids the earth speak. It seemed something big enough to suggest Greek legends or myths. The name came as he hooked up the first vase. A light, literally, was lit in his mind. Gaia was the goddess, the mother of us all, the earth itself.
So instead of the lighting pieces being called “Rare Earth” he called the Gaia Lamp. No factory on the planet can make these like Stafford does because how he approaches each one. Instead of being punched out of a mold, he explains that they are like children; each born from the same lineage, but each free to be individual enough to be identified. All are family, and none are mere copies of the other. When you do this, you bring a life to an object, Parker explains, and we have this long-lived feeling about objects containing power, whether they be the medicine pouches of the Native American Shaman or Catholics with reliquaries built from gold and precious stones. People explain how they were healed from touching a relic or a medicine bag being shaken in their direction. We just believe, universally, that objects can be endowed with a power beyond their owner.
Parker does not suggest that such magic will happen with his work, no, but a subtler kind of magic is at work. A few days after considering the campaign publicly a friend from California walked into a diner in midtown Manhattan and stood face to face with one of the earliest pieces the artisan had ever made. “She took pictures and posted them on my Facebook page. I took a look and sure enough, I remembered the piece as some of the very first pieces in the line. It felt like an interesting synchronicity to me. It suggested that somewhere in here was something important.” The person who saw them recognized them because she had one of his vases from the same line. She had also lit her piece using a candle, which spoke to the universal need to light these pieces up.
It is the earth, he explains, surely, but unlike any earth you have seen. It is like the earth that we each dream about, the earth that we FEEL. It speaks to you of the soul of earth, of our world, a deep part of our experience, the artisan suggests. Because it is invested in this kind of effort, this level of thought and blood and fire and sweat and love, these things tend to show, to reveal themselves.
Like the truth, this cannot be held back for long. Even great ideas, long forgotten, tend to be dug back up and celebrated in later generations. This one slice of the Earth’s story is not one that we should allow to drop through the crust and into memory, Parker insists. Rather, it should be like a thought that raises a memory within us. In each of us. It is the knowledge that the earth is precious, foundational, and important to all of us. What if you could make that earth sing? Would that be a song that you would be interested in hearing? What if that song were as true as it could be? Parker explains that in making these pieces he has done this. He has made the earth sing. Each time a piece is made. I can’t even begin to explain how different these pieces are from commercially made objects looking over his shoulder as he goes through his computer to show me the images that he has of this line.
When lit, the song becomes so much more pronounced. All of this got started when a client and friend who had been at the studio wondered what one of his Rare Earth vases would look like lit. Parker knew how they would look like, he had seen it many times before. He had not felt like he could afford the time and money to sink into the project. “It will look great….I knew that…..and putting that vase up to the lights in the gallery put any question to rest.” The client asked him what it would take to light this vase. He explained the process quickly. “Do it” she said.
Last month Parker lit the first of these vases and the result was nothing short of amazing. Then a funding campaign wrapped itself around the effort. Times have been hard for this artisan of the New River Valley. It was just a few years ago that the economy caved in on itself. Resources grew scarce. He was rebuilding his life after a shoulder injury a few years took him out of the glass game for a full year, doctor’s orders. Parker does not paint on canvas. He reminds us that he paints on canvasses of molten lava, a silicate material we call glass. At 2100 degrees farenheit, he artfully casts the colors so that they last for the ages. Everything about doing this is expensive. The rewards, he offers me, also match the cost. Treat glass like how it is treated in factories and it loses its lovely potential, but bring it into the studio and give it clarity and love and humility, and it will show you more than you ever dared possible. It is evident that Parker knows. A selection of his recent works are included at the end of the post so you can begin to get an idea about where his skill and artistry take him.
Standing at 7 inches for the small and 12 inches for the large, respectively, the two sizes of the Gaia Lamp that Parker has been working on, will be made available through his campaign on indiegogo. A link is included at the end of the post so you can check this out.
He has another form, though, something that he currently does not have a sample for that is worth mentioning. Hands waiving in the air, what he describes to me is a round globe instead of a tall statue of a piece. This globe has all the colors of its taller sisters, but swells with a life that showers the room with something that feels like healing light. He calls this one the Gaia Globe Lamp. He does not want to make a copy of a salt lamp which was heavily marketed and even oversold. He wants something that will be….different. The effect that this warm light has on us, he says, is perennial. Listening to him and looking at him sketching the form, I imagine a hypnotic shape that could be hard to pull away from. I ask him when he plans on making this shape. He explains that he has made many of them, but they were never turned into lamps. He will make the first samples as soon as the campaign is funded. In fact, this piece will go with a group to galleries all across the nation. He already has galleries interested in carrying the work before the campaign is even into its first week. It feels comforting to me and I say so.
“That is because this type of light IS healing,” Parker points out, explaining that while he was putting the campaign together he stumbled upon an article about the healing effects of light. It was in a study funded by the Harvard Medical school and it had to do with the effects of blue light on humans.
The Harvard study (Source) looked at the effect that blue light from televisions, computer screens, and L.E.D. lighting had on humans. The study identified that blue light is what keeps humans alert, which is fine when you want to stay awake, but what happens when you provide this same light at a time when the body depends on getting the right signals telling it that it can rest? By staring into computer monitors, Parker explains, we have extended that exposure, and the results are startling in that it upsets our sleep cycles and has effects on our endocrine system, the governing body of glands that are identified as being related to healing and growth. “Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin in the body,” Parker explains, ” and this has two main effects according to this study. It makes it hard for people to sleep well. It messes with our blood sugar levels. People in the study began to show what were described by the doctors as pre-diabetic states. Changing the light intake from blue to reds and golds changed all of that.” This is a cautionary tale partly about how we use our technology but also how we take care of ourselves. If the quality of the light has such an effect on us, then it begs a big question…
Holding his lamp in my hands, I feel its comforting swell in shape, its tapering neck. It is sleek, contemporary, but, as the artisan points out, is based on forms he saw in the earliest vessels ever made out of glass: his shapes are based on ancient middle eastern forms. They seem contemporary because they are so classic in their shape
Sitting back in his chair, he levels his gaze and admits, “I am not here to tell you that my lamp will heal the world. No. But look, warm light will have its effect. It seems coming across this article was a simple case of perfect synchronicity.” Talking about his lamp he explains that our reaction to many subtle phenomenon is rooted in how it impacts us physiologically even if we are not realizing it being the distracted beings that we all seem to have turned into. Parker smiles and explains, “It is a great reason to make your world more beautiful by filling it with what might very well be a therapeutic effect from the light that it produces; a bonus! And you are supporting a small business, the little guys and gals who make cool stuff and dream big. Why wouldn’t you get excited about being a part of a dream like this?”
Our voices get quiet as we sit in his darkened study, the lamp gently illuminating the room. “It’s a different kind of light!” I remark. And it is different. It is like fire.
Holding his lamp in my hands, I feel its comforting swell in shape, its tapering neck. It is sleek, contemporary, but, as the artisan points out, it is based on forms he saw in the earliest vessels ever made out of glass: his shapes are based on ancient middle eastern forms. They seem contemporary because they are so classic in their shape. It has more weight than other vases, which were more like a leaf. This piece has some heft to it. Parker points out that the base is close an in thick, explaining, “I had to drill through that in order to sneak the light kit into the vase so it did not take up a lot of space.” Sure enough, a single cord comes snaking out of the base where a toggle switch is positioned a few feet away. The cord is nine feet long and all materials are heavy duty for long life. The design is simple, straightforward, and this makes changing the bulb easy. With a flick of the finger, the vase burst to life. Its marvelous. Our voices get quiet as we sit in his darkened study, the lamp gently illuminating the room. “It’s a different kind of light!” I remark. And it is different. It is like fire. You can’t help but continue to gaze into it. It is hypnotic in the same way that a fire keeps your attention and holds it.
Parker smiles as he takes the vase in his hands and holds it in his lap. “I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone wouldn’t want to see something like this come to life.” We turn the light out and the night sky surges in around us. The moon, a sliver, hangs in the sky. The room feels five degrees cooler. It was time to leave the room. He agrees and offers to make a particularly strong cup of coffee, a roast he insists is low on caffeine and is roasted and sold by a local company just down the block from his home.
We talk about the nuts and bolts of this thing as we sip our coffee.
The campaign seeks to raise $5,600 in just five weeks. It is an ambitious effort. “The budget came out to this amount when all of the stamps and shipments were counted. There is no use doing something half-way” Parker explains. “To do this will mean that I was able to shake the trees and wake some people up to this opportunity to become part of something cool. I am learning who will help and who wont. There is no judgement there, its just effort, the same way a river will flow. I am not interested in taking anything personally. But I need the help of the people who will see this and the people who will see this because it has been shared, spread around the planet a little.” We talk about old lessons about getting caught up in the story of others. He points out that our “glitches” as he calls them exist when we put value on what other people do based on what they value. “You have to simply find someone who is like you are. It is like striking a bell and finding that every bell that gets ‘struck’ by this sounds the same. I am looking for that reaction. It is a resonance.”
If you are a reporter, call me. Let’s talk. I have a story waiting for you if you are ready.
“I will mobilize thousands of people all to help with this effort. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to say that you were part of making the Gaia lamp into a national phenomenon?” Parker is looking for people who have this kind of vision. He says he is seeking recruits, believers who will spread the word. He points out that he would rather have a hundred people all sharing his story on facebook and email than a hundred dollars coming from one person. The value of the masses clearly begins to clarify as he shows me the numbers for other campaigns. It is a big numbers game, and those who succeed are those who have been able to leverage the internet in the right way. “One to two percent of all the people who I contact will be interested in actually donating. With numbers like these, I need many people who aren’t even interested in giving, but in helping. It is an entirely different approach to how money is raised. I began by taking a poll to find out who was willing to JUST spread the word.” Parker looks down at his cup and ads, “A lot of those people who were so interested in helping haven’t helped yet, so I am looking for greater spread. This is a busy time of year, so I understand. I am, though, taking all takers. If you like this thing, press the “share” button. Look at it; do you think it’s cool? Share it. Give a dollar, even. If you are a reporter, call me. Let’s talk. I have a story waiting for you if you are ready.”
It all begins with a dream. Endless gadgets that are currently being crowdfunded that are made that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. One design project seeks a fraction of that. Hidden in the fractions, though, lies a great story. It is one that Parker is ready to tell in the language of fire and glass. The pipe turns as the fire rises, as the poet Sandburg suggested in his poem, this man turns sand into light. The hottest den of fire is where these pieces are made. Turning nice and easy and slow, Parker is giving life to something larger than this.
If you want to find out more this is what you need to know
The campaign for the Gaia Lamp is swiftly getting underway with a link to the campaign on indiegogo. Right now it is in draft mode, which means that I am making adjustments and changes can be made. If you have suggestions from perks to ways to tighten up the copy, I am all ears (and eyes)! This new design is really great, bringing to your homes or someone whom you love, a warmth and creative flair! Its art glass AND lighting all in one! Everyone who has gotten to see them have all remarked how it transforms a room. Wonderful anywhere mood lighting is needed. Bedrooms, foyers, living rooms, the possibilities are endless. While there is one sample that shows the work, I have a number of different sizes from approximately 7″ tall (mini night-light version) to the full-sized version on the campaign site (approximately 12″ tall) as well as a globe in the works. ALL of these design have been made before, just not as a light feature, so there is no question about HOW to make them. This campaign is full steam ahead! So….share this with your friends because the more coverage I can get, the greater the possibility that I can reach my goal!
Want to contact me to find out how you can become involved in this exciting effort? It can be as simple as sharing this post and the links with your friends and fellow bloggers. It can also be more involved, such as reviewing copy, and giving design advice about the campaign. There are perks available for this type of involvement!
All drinking jokes aside, this week was one that was kind of big in one of those perfectly understated sort of ways. It made a big splash, though, as people began contacting me about this new idea I was working on. It has been….gosh…. maybe two years in the making? It seems that this happens a lot with me. It isn’t always because of laziness, but just how things seem to happen. But the funny thing is that they almost always wind up as amazing for some reason, these back-burner ideas. The really popular ones…In 1999 I came up with an idea for a galaxy inside of a rock, which I made the first prototypes for that year. The pieces I made were interesting, but they were not worth writing home about. Not for me. Not for a business that set up shop in fairs all across the country whose success was necessary in order to support a business as well as a family at home. For an artist, this is an order that is tall and is something you are always having to make strategic decisions about in order to keep the business solvent. One or two flops can result in wasted time, lost revenue, and a sputtering business.
So this piece was put on the back burner and after a couple of years were pulled off the back burner during a slow summer. This piece has evolved, though, from a time-consuming glass piece that took 40 minutes to make each, to an awesome design made in six minutes with an assistant. This goes to show how things can change in ways you could never believe could happen. When you are blowing glass at 40 minutes per piece , it is hard to believe you would be making them one every six minutes. So that is the backdrop behind this next piece I am going to show you that got made this past week.
The story on how this piece came to be is an interesting one and shows that good things come to those who wait.
It was about two years ago during the holiday rush when I was hosting a long line of people who were coming into the studio to blow ornaments and suncatchers for the season. This is a huge amount of fun for people. I have figured out a way to help people to make beautiful glass ornaments with just a few steps done by me with the bulk being done by the customer. When you consider that it literally takes years to master this art/craft, this is kind of big thing for people to have access to glass. It was during this that an old family friend, Ann Roberts, who teaches at Radford University and who I worked with the Glass Garden (see the archives) came to the studio with a group of people she put me in touch with who blew glass at my studio. While she was at the studio one day during the holidays, she was looking at this one vase I had. It was priced as a second. I explained that it had not turned out right. Everything about it was technically right, the colors were off. The colors had been laid on too dark and this made the piece….well….kind of muddied and dark. I held it up to the light and saw that it looked fabulous with light shining down into it. Pity it was not a lamp, I said. Ann then said something about maybe turning it into one. I had actually had this idea for years about making my vases into….LAMPS. Beautiful stained glass windows of lamps…custom creations unlike anything you have ever seen. And the idea for this project was born!
We talked enough about it that day when she was in the studio that it was decided. I would hold onto her vase and would drill into it and try to light it from within. Ann was game and so was I.
Things have been up and down and up and down since then in keeping the studio open. The economy has not been helpful, but it is true that hotglass is one of the most expensive fields to go into next to jewelry. It takes a lot to get a studio operational and keep it operational. It is a challenge. But I like challenges, and it is one reason why I was able to run the studio full-time for over 12 years until my shoulder injury shut the studio down for a full year, with efforts after that resulting in sputtering. Penny-wise and pound foolish. Yeah.
So even though the studio has been in hibernation, I was able to afford a special diamond bit that would allow me to drill out this vase for Ann. Then, a couple of days ago, I headed to my hardware store with vase in hand and got the materials I needed to light this piece up.
The result? I took pictures. Its an amazing piece, a wonderful idea, a great concept. But one thing that the pictures don’t show is how the lamp affects the space around it. THIS is the really cool part! The same warm feeling that you get when you start a fire was the effect that this vase had on the space. It created a warmth and a feeling of peace. Cool, too, that the bulb was a fluorescent. Normally, I would not use these for glass. I have this love-hate relationship with fluorescent. It is cheap, but it’s also not a full type of light. It is a gas that gets excited. There is something wan about this light, I have always felt. However, moving through THIS glass, the rules seem to have changed. And this is good because it makes this design efficient.
The vase shot a brilliant white orb from its interior up on the ceiling and the walls were bathed in its golden glow. This was something I was expecting, hoping for actually. There was a great satisfaction standing there looking at how the ceiling was washed with this nice white orb on the ceiling. It created the kind of diffuse light that I have ALWAYS liked. Maybe it comes from my days working in a painting studio with northern light. This kind of light always strikes me as festival lighting. You know what I mean when I say that? In the waning light of the winter, we have these festival and feast days. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. And having candles out and the fire burning bright just feels….cozy, right? This was the effect this piece had. Perfect! I have some final shots of the completed piece at the end of the post.
Highlights of red, orange, yellows, and browns helped to seal the deal as I surveyed the effects this piece had on its surroundings. The pictures are dramatic, but they sometimes can look more like a piece that is being lit really well from the outside rather than something that is lit from its interior. This is being lit, obviously, from the inside, but if I had not told you this, you might not have noticed. The effect on the space was magic. It was even better then I had expected.
So lets take a look at the results and I will try to get some pictures from my phone over here to look at so you can see a little more about the project. I will warn you, my phone pics are not the greatest, but they work for field work…
The first part was drilling out (near) the bottom of the vase. This is done with a wet feed drill bit embedded with diamond so the glass does not crack from the heat of the bit cutting the glass.
Then after this, I had to work out a solution for running a wire through this hole in a way that was secure and visually pleasing. This is the bare wire I had stripped, ready to be wired into the light kit…
I had to come up with a custom solution for fixing the wiring in the glass. The solution that I came up with worked the first time, which was nice. Sometimes these things wind up becoming a hunt for just the right thing.
The wiring was pulled out enough so that once I installed the light kit the light bulb could be pulled out of the vase to be changed (not everyone could get their hand down inside the vase).
So the wire length is set in the pic above and the light kit will be attached to these bare wires. Vase drilled, and the wiring fixed in the bottom of the piece.
Now its on to wiring the light kit. But before I do that, let me show you a shot taken in the afternoon light on my living room floor as I worked on all of this that shows how the wire is secured in the piece.
So the fixing of the wiring will keep the wire from being pulled out from the interior of the vase. This is an interior view, below.
Okay. So now for the lighting kit!
I chose a heavy duty ceramic fixture that would give the light kit weight in the vase. Being a prototype, there are more improvements that I will make, but all of this is entirely workable.
Once all of this was done and I tested the light for proper operation, I installed an inline switch that will allow the user to turn the light off within a foot or two of the fixture itself. This is a heavy duty light switch that is the best on the market. It will last for years and is a nice safe switch to use.
Okay, so the rest of the pics are of some quick pictures I took with my other camera!
What is cool about how I do this design is the dimensional quality that I can achieve, which is to say that when I combine colored glass powders with the other glass colors the effect has depth. The effect is different from most anything else I have ever seen in glass (that is blown thin like this piece). It comes from my relentless drive towards creating effects in glass that no one has yet done. No one taught me this, I had to develop it through trial and error, through what large corporations call R&D. I have been lucky in that most of what I have attempted has tended to yield really good results (even when tinkering).
There are, currently, about three different applications of this glass design that I am thinking about using for lighting. One is a torchiere-based lamp with a large sumptuous glass feature expanding out from the center. All of it, though, including the hardware, will have to be built from the ground up. the stuff coming to us from China is simply too light weight for something of the kind I will be making. So yes, expensive, but yet, one of a kind. Unique. There are people out there who value this kind of thing still. Something so visually arresting and unlike anything else that it makes a statement in the room. This is what winning design is about; winning designs help make a room. Take a lamp like this out of its space and you are left with a visual vacuum. Being custom, it has a look that is just….different. The knobs to turn it on are heavier, made of better materials. the knobs do not wobble in their normaly cheap housings. They are sturdy. Being the Rolls Royce of lighting, everything is built to last. This you know you will hand down to your children, to your grand-kids. People will talk about it, noticing it upon entering the room. “Where did you GET that?” are the words so often said.
The other design is a more traditional table-sized lamp that includes a base that is lit just like this vase, but that also includes a lamp shade made using the same color design, but with a bowl/shade that it inverted over the upper portion of the light to create its sumptuous glow. This one will have at least three high intensity lamps up inside the shade with a dimmable feature. The base will be broad, made of a sculpted bronze fitting that will give the entire design a nice stability. It will have a masculine warmth with a cast bronze central shaft but with a verdigris patina (which is blue-green) to contrast and compliment the warmth of the glass. The result will be striking and fabulous. Interested in Art Nouveaux, I would design the base to have an organic effect, but not a rehash of the wonderful but now-overplayed Tiffany era bases which we have all grown to know. Maybe I will call this Retronouveaux. It will have a heavier build, which gives it a greater balance between the feminine undulating forms and a supportive solidity which will give these works something that the originals did not. They didn’t need to.
This, though, is how these things go. They often are the result of a number of interesting events that all combine to create something that is not always anticipated. Now that this is out there, the question is where will I be able to take this…
What’s next? Well….I need to get the studio running again so I can make some of these pieces. That means ordering the glass, getting propane to run the reheating furnaces and paying for electricity. Then after that, I have to work up waxes to use for the forms that will be cast in bronze. Then after that, there is the investment casting that has to be made (this is making the heat-resistant mold that will hold the 2,000 degree bronze once it’s poured). That, though, is enough fodder for another blog post!
Perhaps what is in order is a crowd funding effort to raise the funds to bring this design to market. Now the question is, do I keep this on the back burner or strike while the iron is hot?
Please contact me directly for studio hours: our work is seasonal and sometimes the studio can be down for repairs, for example. Some days we are blowing glass while other days we are running errands or away at a show. Let us know when you are free to come see us and we can work something out that works for you.