stafford art glass

Art and Design, glassblowing

Here I am


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I now have a presence on Tumblr, a rather feisty sort of place where images tumble like fish during spawning season.  How do they do it?  How do people post so much information?  Ah, it is the mobile generation!  Okay, so this is my stab at it!  More pics, less yackety-yack!   For content in the Tumblr-universe, check us out there:

http://www.staffordartglass.tumblr.com/

To Facebook:

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To Tweet:

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Enjoy and I look forward to seeing you in the multiverse!

Art and Design, glassblowing, spirituality

Journey Glass


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All of life is a journey.  We come, we grow, And we go.  In between is what we consider our life.  Many feel like when you are done, you are done.  This is it, there is no more.  Certainly our five sense, if we rely on them alone, would seem to suggest there is nothing more.  I am of a different sort because I have been fortunate in some ways to see with more than just my physical eyes.  For some of you, this will seem silly, but it is only silly until you have those brushes with something larger, something inexplicable, that your understanding can change.  The world was once flat, too!

Several years ago I had a family come to my studio who blew ornaments before Christmas.  Husband, wife, and two darling daughters, about ten and five years old.  They each blew glass.  It was fun.  The Dad looked like he wasn’t doing so well, like he had been sick.  But the glass, he really loved.  He in fact did the one thing many people do who fall in love with glass; they ask if they could come and sweep floors or help in exchange for more instruction and fun with the hot stuff.  He explained he wasn’t sure when he would get a ‘good day’ again but if he did, he would like to come again.  His daughters had just exclaimed in unison upon his completion of his piece, “that’s beautiful, Daddy!”

Rob never came back, though, and I wondered what happened.  His wife contacted me in the early Spring to explain that Rob had succumbed to cancer.  She was calling to see if I would be willing to make some pendants for her and her daughters as a way to keep him close during this hard time.  She explained that her husband Rob had enjoyed the glass so much and had talked at length about the experience to people afterward that she thought it would be a fitting way for all of them to remember him; doing something he always wanted to do and got to do!

I had never worked with crematory ash and explained I would have to run some tests to make sure I could do it in a way I felt good about.  In the end I made an Inscape Geode for each of them that had a river-like form running through the piece which was his ash.  I thought this was a fitting way to use the ash since our journey takes many dips and bends while we are here.  The pieces really looked great!  I made pendants, too, which were a first for me, but being able to provide a way for this family a way through their grieving process was itself an honor.

When the day came for the pieces to be picked up, I handed the pieces to her and her daughters to look at in the gallery and we talked about Rob and his life.  Being able to celebrate his life in this way felt so right.  The family has pieces of glass art that helped to keep the memory of a loved one close.

More recently, I was approached by two different people I know who  me asked if I could make glass beads and if I could create them, using ash.  The beads were to be a way to scatter ashes all around the world for their father who had passed.  I thought this was so novel that I instantly agreed.  Then not long after this, I was approached by an old college friend.  The order began with a pretty middle of the road series of colors and ended with a batch of some really cool works that are in the first photo on this post and are sprinkled throughout.  They turned out to be some of the coolest pieces of jewelry I have made thus far….cosmic, subtle, nuanced…and beautiful!  I was glad that his widow agreed to try a creative route and granted permission for me to use images of her pieces to show here.

I am now practiced at adding ash to glass.  Normally glass and ash do not play well together, but there are some instances where it works very well.  Using good old observation, testing, and common sense, I have developed a way to make this a good pairing.  This makes scattering ashes easy since you can carry the ashes in your neck until you reach that special spot (or spots).  It makes creating closure for family easier, a way to pay final respects, in a sense.  The beads I have decided to call Journey Beads.  It is a fitting name I think, and if you consider how the pendants turned out, perhaps also a cosmic journey for our loved ones.  So perhaps Cosmic Journey for the pendants?  I am mulling that one still.

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I will be straight with you.  I felt a little odd having Rob’s ash in the studio, at least initially.  This feeling, I realized, was part of our collective fear, even loathing, of death.  We feel this way because we are conditioned to think death is the end.  It is, I believe, a transition that most do not get to witness…..except when they themselves make their own exit  from this earthly stage. I have, however, found that each opportunity to help people in this transition had been in some way also an opportunity for me to help people through a challenging time in their lives.

When ash does come into the studio, it is carefully tracked throughout the entire process to ensure absolutely accuracy When using remains.  The amount of ash needed for a piece is very small, less than a teaspoon for a pendant.

So the work continues.  I am available for making glass to help memorialize your loved one.  I have found this to be an unexpectedly healing process!

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For those interested in having pendants made, most pendants are available starting at $85.00 piece And depends on color options and any necklaces that you may want shipped with the pendant.  Please contact me for details on these options.  Any ash remaining, no matter how small, is always returned to the customer.

This product is backed by a guarantee of your complete pleasure for up to thirty days from purchase.  Pendants are made from high quality American made borosilicate, a glass known for its toughness and resilience to scratching, changes in temperature, and chemicals.  This glass is so tough it is what lab ware is made from for chemistry laboratories!

Art and Design, glassblowing

Hotglass Weekend Wrap-Up


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Closeup of a suncatcher by Carolee J. Bondurant

The event has wound down and the studio was host to dozens of families and friends who came from near and far (one family from North Carolina up for the holidays) who took part in our multi-weekend glass blowing experience that included our BYOB (Blow Your Ornament Ball), and our Hotglass Weekend that was pulled together after many people began inquiring about times after the holidays when they could venture out and get their hands into the hot stuff and play with fire.

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A smiling Bob Grogan gets ready for his turn making glass
The previous day's haul warm from the kiln
The previous day’s haul warm from the kiln

This season was so incredibly encouraging on so many fronts.  It seemed that at every turn I kept meeting the most interesting and inspiring people all bent on helping support the studio in fascinating ways.  One customer showed her work to her co-workers after I met her during a break from her work.  In this case, she was a newscaster at a local television station, which garnered a short story about the studio on Christmas Eve telling about how we offer making your own ornament as a special during the holidays.  I was able to meet many other people who have in their own ways helped to spread the word and make a difference for  the studio.  And just so you know, this isn’t about me, but about all of the interesting and excited people who came to lend their smiles, their stories, and their time in helping make this event one of the single best events ever (and we have had many, so that is saying something!)

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Threading on cobalt glass to make a feather pattern

If you look back through the last few blog posts, you can begin to see some of the pieces that folks just like you, who have never blown glass before were able to make with a little help from a seasoned glass teacher and blower.  The results have all been fantastic!  Pictures from the weekend are sprinkled liberally throughout this latest edition of SAG on WordPress.  I have met inquisitive kids who talked about the chemistry of glass, who wondered about its long history, and who had interesting ideas about life, glass, and the pursuit of life’s simplest pleasures.  It has been a real interesting and rewarding time being able to share time with so many people who were all connected by their love or sheer curiosity about glass as an expressive medium.  When I think about the quality of experience, the caliber of people pulled in by the sheer gravity of glass and its beauty, I find myself hopeful about adding instruction at the studio as a key ingredient in just what it is that we do there.

The complete feathered piece up-close
The complete feathered piece up-close

We had a half price off sale where works went for a song and a second sale where pieces went for unheard of prices.  If you know what my seconds look like, you know that our seconds are first-rate pieces that maybe were a little too small or slightly off-center.  I talked to people about how they could design their own work for their homes, an opportunity that is unheard of in this age of the cheap mass-produced object.  Helping to bring the real back to life can also help to enliven the soul and stir the heart.  And THAT is not just a cheap throw-away but the honest truth.

John makes a paperweight at the reheating furnace
John makes a paperweight at the reheating furnace

For now, the pictures for this post are being worked on to ready them for the web.  In the days that follow you will begin to see images from this weekend that help to paint a picture of just what happened and what went on!  But to learn more check out this blogger who describes her experience in her recent post about her visit to the studio this weekend!

http://joansnaturejournal.blogspot.com/2014/01/stafford-art-glass-class.html?spref=fb

Closeup of sun catcher by Caroline Gaskins
Closeup of sun catcher by Caroline Gaskins
Art and Design, glassblowing

How We Are Different…


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For those who are curious about blowing glass themselves at the studio, this will help you to understand a little more what to expect if you do blow glass for the first time.  I also suggest reading the BYOB post a few entries down the line as well.

Lindsey

Over the course of this past season when we had the bulk of the people coming out to blow glass I was told how I let people do more actual working of the glass than other studios do.  To put this into perspective, most studios when holding an event of this type do not allow their “students” do much more than pick the colors that will go into the piece and then blow into a hose at the end to inflate their ornament.  That in itself can be a real thrill for anyone who has never been involved in glassblowing, sure enough. Having worked with glass, knowing its secrets, knowing how amazing a material it is, I have to be honest and say this is not the best way to expose people to the wonders of glass. I know that some studio’s have concerns about liability, some wont let you onto the blowing floor without  a rope between you and the pad where glass blowers work.  On the one hand it is understandable, but on the other, its not something that a simple explanation about how to keep safe being in the mix wont correct.  At the end of the day we all know that hot glass is an extreme material.  It is one reason why people are drawn to it in the first place.  Children are carefully shown how important it is to stay in certain places while we are working and once you see what it is that we do on the blowing floor, it is easy to remain safe while being up close with this amazing material.  It is an opportunity most people do not get in their lifetimes.  
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A student piece from our December BYOB at Stafford Artglass.

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Yes, all you have to do is watch it being made to “get” how amazing this stuff is…..and yet, there is a significant leap that happens between observing and doing.  Glass is frustratingly difficult to master.  It literally takes years to learn well. The old masters all look forward to getting better with the next piece.  We are all pretty humble when it comes to glass (even those who don’t seem to be when you visit their studios or meet them in person at a gallery).  Having said this, my big challenge has been how to involve people more in actual glass making while not making it so hard that we can’t get an ornament made.
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When I do ornaments with beginners off the street there are several steps that I have to do to ensure that the glass is made right.  This is only because some steps cannot be re-done if they are done incorrectly. Like putting on the hanger/eye that covers the hole where the ornament is knocked off the pipe.  That step has to be done flawlessly because you have to be able to use the heat in the bit of glass used to cover the hole and get it into perfect hanger shape or everything that you have done prior in making the piece is lost.  This step could easily take a day of drilling over and over before a person would get good enough to do it dependably.  I know some beginners years later who are still polishing their skills on making good hangers on ornaments!  And yet, even at the first go, there is so much a person can learn, and then build upon after that.

When you blow an ornament or suncatcher, you select the colors and I lay them out for you.  We talk about what kinds of effects you would like in the glass.  Would you like the color to cascade like a solid ribbon through the glass or would you like all colors to simply blow out straight?  Would you like anything to swirl together, etc.  Once that is determined, we have a basic game plan.  After that, I talk about the blow pipe and how to keep your hands safe from the heat by knowing how to use the blowpipe.  If the person wants to get the glass out of the furnace, they can. This is the most extreme part of the whole process and its not for everyone. It is akin to standing in front of a roaring bon-fire.  It is hot and sometimes the gloves you wear will smoke!  the glass is shaped quickly by me at the bench before the student heats it and rolls the glass in the bits of color.  depending on the intensity of color desired, the student may do this several times, going back from the reheating furnace to the table where the colored glass is kept.  Once this is done, I quickly shape the glass and we begin to initiate what is called a “starter” bubble.  Once this is done, I attach a flexible line to the end of the pipe and when signaled, the student begins to blow gently first into the hose, further inflating the ornament.

Once this has been done, and its most often done very quickly, the suncatcher or ornament is ready to be cooled and broken off the pipe by me.  I run quickly to get a bit of glass for the hanger and it is made and put away into a kiln where it must cool for about 12 hours.

Weekend and day-long classes are different.  While I may do the same steps as mentioned above in the first ornament for a day or weekend class, the point of these classes is to actually give you the skills to balance molten glass on the pipe while blowing/inflating the bubble.  Gradually as the steps are shown by doing pieces, the student is given more and more opportunity to repeat the same steps that were shown as we made an ornament for example. In the beginning I do more of the steps so students can observe and learn and then as we move along, the student does more and more of these steps as they are able.

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A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)
A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)

If you want to do more in glass, being able to repeat the same form several times in order to build skill is what is necessary.  This past season I had two instances where the ornament that was made did not turn out.  The third time for two separate cases was the charm.  However, I and the student both noted just how much faster they were in the second go-round than they were on the first.  It took almost half the time, which speaks to how your own skill increases once you have repeated these forms a few times.  This is progress!  Once you can cut that same time in half again is where I work when doing production in the studio.  And speed is a very good indicator of skill because with hot glass it means that you are anticipating what the glass will do and you can then work with it to utilize the heat to build the form.  You don’t do this as much when you are simply learning what the glass does for the first time.  As a result of this, taking a class that builds on skill is what will actually show you how much you can improve and learn with glass….which is a lot!

For those who have not blown glass as the studio or have not been to the studio before, the following post is an informative way to become accustomed to what it is we offer, such as the Blow Your Ornament Ball (BYOB):

http://staffordartglass.blog/2013/12/02/making-your-own-ornament-the-b-y-o-b-blow-your-ornament-ball/

People have said I take a lot of time with my students.  I do.  What I want to be able to do is to expose them to glass and hope that the glass does the rest for them.  And I do have an ulterior motive in all of this; if people so enjoy their experience that they tell their friends about it, or show off their creations, they are helping me to get the word out about what it is that I offer.  In a world where we get less cereal in the box for the same size box, I want to continue offering something more than all the rest do.  The looks on the faces of the folks who took the last picture below tells the story better than I could ever do!

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