Our April masterclass was enriched by some spectacular demos and techniques shared by the cane working and Murrine master, Scott Benefield. An American now living in Northern Ireland, this is Scott’s second visit to The Glass Hub. We had four returning students and two new to welcome, and what with all the plates, forks and extra bits around, the workshop felt really busy. That makes it sound like some sort of feast, which it was, of course, if you like flat sections of square glass, lined up, heated and squashed together to make a flat sheet, then rolled up, sealed and blown into beautiful mosaic style vases.
On day one students were thrown into the slightly alien arena (for glass blowers anyway) of cutting sheet glass into strips and making stacks of around 16 sheets, 1.5 by 6 inches long.(mostly opaque colours for better visual, as it’s all seen on edge). It was a blessing having Helga around, and with her expertise in cutting and kiln work, the kiln was loaded in no time and soon 20 or so stacks were in the kiln and rising up to 750 degrees.
Once the stacks were in the kiln, Scott moved everyone through to the hot shop, and showed them the process of pulling Murrine bar from furnace glass with coloured frit to create a clear inner and colour outer surround when cut in cross section.
Students gathered, rolled, pulled, squashed square, and by jumping up onto the bench, pulled the cane down to the correct length and width, on the way discovering the correct temperature for a decent and even pull. We used the airline to help, but held off from using the torch, to avoid scorched faces and legs. Sara had treated us to the “scorched fringe” look from the annealer.
So, with this pulling experience now under their belts and a decent lunch in their bellies, everyone launched into an afternoon of pulling spectrum sheets into square sections of Murrine bar. These 3ft sections were then broken in half, and placed in the lehr to anneal ready for day two.
We were fortunate to have Sonja Klingler and Katie Huskie around that afternoon, as they picked up the fused bars with Scott, and soon the kiln became empty and the lehr was stacked with beautiful colours and cross sectioned stripes.
An eager group of students arrived on day two to start the chopping process. All the sections are cut to approximately the same depth, (this is harder than it looks), and laid out on a kiln shelf, contained by steel bars. We were treated to a great demo from Scott, as he picked up his first plate of Murrine, and proceeded to blow a beautiful flattened vessel. It’s hard to believe, but from jigsaws of mosaic glass, heated, squashed and pressed into a solid sheet …a blown vessel can be formed!
Students were given the opportunity to fuse another couple of stacks, and prepare a plate of their own, ready to make their first vessel in the afternoon.
So it was a finely tuned system we had going by the mid-afternoon. James Devereux was on hand to do all the plate heatings and the lifting, as well as instruct and advise. He is so brilliant to have around, so diverse is his knowledge for each course!
Murrine sheets were soon developing as students each picked up, joined, rolled and blew a piece each before the end of the day. And everyone got one in!! Scott showed students how to use solid bar Murrine, (Dick Marquis style), and although there was no time for students to practice this, they will have the opportunity to try it if ever at a hot shop with no spectrum glass to hand!
As poor Brian acknowledges, it’s frustrating to have a piece drop from the punty and smash on the floor, but after this amount of preparation in cutting, chopping, heating etc …it’s heart-breaking! Such is the nature of this beast called glass.
…and it’s all hands on deck! Students were in early, chopping, preparing and starting to blow the last two pieces each. It gave me such pleasure to see the amount everyone had learned in the previous two days, thanks to Scott’s lovely way of teaching and smooth instruction.
Another great demo, this time a tall vase in red, white and black…
The day finished on time, with most achieving two finished blown pieces. Then everyone was rushing back to real life, away from the crazy-paving world of Murrine; back to Ireland, Switzerland, Aberdeen, Milton Keynes and Southhampton. it was an absolute joy of a course to run.
Thanks to Scott Benefield for sharing the knowledge and running a highly accurately timed course in such a cool and relaxed manner. I hope students are inspired by his wonderfully open attitude to making glass where he works very much “with” the material, not attempting to “master” it.
A big thanks to James Devereux, Sonja Klingler and Katie Huskie for their invaluable help, and to a great group of students, who all made this incredible weekend such a patchwork of success.