Collaboration in Glass

Here, the glass is being shaped with wet newspaper.
Left to right: Justin Kern, and Andrew Najarian. Here, the glass is shaped with wet newspaper.

As I watched this team of artists work together to make the glass forms for Anders Ruhwald’s forthcoming exhibit at the David Owsley Museum of Art, I couldn’t help but be impressed. Being the photography major that I am, this was something that I don’t usually get to see. It’s not often I make it out to The Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass. I had difficulty pulling myself away to grab my camera. When I first arrived, I simply watched.  To re-create Anders Ruhwald’s totemic forms in glass, a different approach had to be taken. They could not make a sculpture that size entirely of glass, so instead, Ruhwald’s forms were divided into sections that would each be individually blown and then be carefully adhered together. In addition to BSU faculty, Brent Cole and Michael Hernandez, this project was also worked on by graduates Andrew Najarian and Noah Schenk, and the following undergraduates: Adam Clute, Marcel Cornett, Lauren Davis, Katherine Garrity, Basma Hindi, Tracy Jarrett, Justin Kern, Kelsie Selch, and Kenny Sprinkle.

Michael Hernandez has just gathered more glass, and is draining off the excess.
Michael Hernandez has just gathered more glass, and is now draining off the excess.

These forms were made over the course of several days. For anyone unfamiliar with the details of glass blowing (like myself), I learned that it is an endless fight against gravity and the constant cooling of the molten glass. When working with the glassblowing process, the material must be kept hot and be constantly rotated. Every few steps the glass is put back into the furnace called the glory hole to be reheated and torches are used to reheat the tools. This kind of work and constant rotation, quite obviously, is very physical (I couldn’t help but notice the muscles on these artists, it must be quite the workout) and can take its toll especially as the size of the form being made gets larger. Collaboration is a very important component of this process, and essential in making large scale, complex works such as this.

The glass is being reheated in the glory hole.
Left to right: Katherine Garrity, Andrew Najarian, and Jennifer Halvorson. The glass is reheated in the glory hole.

For each form, hot glass is gathered on the end of what is called a blowpipe (the long pole). Once the glass is gathered, it is shaped using wood blocks, wet, folded newspaper, or rolled on the marver, which is a table covered with a thick flat sheet of steel. These tools are used to shape the glass, and to cool the outer shell. The glassblowers continue to shape the glass at their workstation bench where tools are within easy reach. A small amount of air is then blown into the blowpipe to create a bubble and inflate the glass. More glass is gathered to increase the potential size of the piece. This is where it gets a bit tricky because you cannot measure the amount of molten glass that is gathered, yet this is important to keep the density of the forms consistent (the less dense, the more translucent the glass, which will in turn affect the color). Despite this difficulty, the forms were shaped, and measured to Anders Ruhwald’s specifications.

Here, the bottom of the form is shaped.
Left to right: Andrew Najarian, Brent Cole, and Michael Hernandez. Here, the bottom of the form is finalized.
The punty is being prepared and rolled on the marver.
Left to right: Jenniefer Halvorson, and Michael Hernandez. Michael Hernandez rolls the punty on the marver.
Here, the form is being transferred to the punty to finish the top.
Left to right: Tracy Jarrett, Andrew Najarian, Justin Kern, Katherine Garrity, Michael Hernandez, and Jennifer Halvorson. Here, the form is transferred to the punty to finish the top.

Once the form has reached the appropriate size and the bottom has been finalized, a punty (a bit of molten glass on a stainless steel pipe) is readied, and the piece is transferred to the punty in order to finish the top. The top is then shaped as well, and once it is finished, it is removed from the punty and is placed in the annealer, an electronically controlled oven that will cool the glass down slowly over the course of a day. If a piece of glass is cooled too quickly, it could crack and shatter. This was definitely a fascinating procedure to watch not only because I haven’t seen very much glass blowing in person, but to also see a team of glassblowers working together.

The form is finished, and will be caught and put in the annealer. And yes, that is one hot piece of glass.
Left to right: Tracy Jarrett, Andrew Najarian, Michael Hernandez, Katherine Garrity, Brent Cole, and Justin Kern. The form is now finished, and will be caught and taken to the annealer where it will slowly cool over the course of a day. And yes, that is one hot piece of glass.

As of now, all of the glass forms have been finished, and they have begun to slowly glue them together. The glue being used takes a week to cure, and only two pieces can be glued together at a time. They are scheduled to be finished by the end of June, and Anders Ruhwald will look at them and offer his final approval and comments.

Here's a sneak peak of one of Anders Ruhwald's forms, and the glass sections that had been made so far.
Here’s a sneak peak of one of Anders Ruhwald’s forms, and the glass sections made so far.

So I know I mentioned in the previous post that these forms are being made in wood too, and you’re probably wondering, “What’s with all the glass pictures, I want to see these in wood!” Well…perhaps not quite like that…but don’t worry. The wood forms were actually made at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills near Detroit, Michigan (where Ruhwald is the Head of Ceramics) and will soon be on their way here. The lights that will illuminate each of the sculptures are being made there as well by a trained metalsmith; each sculpture will only be lit by four of them. Ruhwald and everyone involved with the project are very happy with how it is proceeding.

Anders Ruhwald’s three ceramic forms, along with the three forms in both glass and wood, will be on exhibit at the David Owsley Museum of Art in the fall. The show is titled Anders Ruhwald: One thing follows the other (and you make it happen). Make sure to stop by, it will be worth the visit.

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