by KT Yun
There was an international flavour to our recent masterclass as Swiss-born glass artist Sonja Klinger introduced her group, that included participants from as far afield as Switzerland, Finland and Dudley, to the Swedish technique of Graal.
A Bit about Graal…
The Graal technique was first developed by Knut Bergqvist in 1916 at Orrefors, a factory in Sweden. He was inspired by the French Art Nouveau glass of the time and especially the work of Daum and Gallé. The name Graal was inspired by the saga of the “Holy Grail” (of the vessel that was supposed to contain the blood of Christ). The first Graal pieces were ruby red and resembled a red liquid freely flowing in the vase, hence, the analogy to the blood of Christ and the name Graal. In the Graal technique a coloured layer of glass is encased by a transparent layer of glass. The glass is then allowed to cool down and when it is cold the design is applied by engraving, etching or sand-blasting. The obtained “embryo” or “blank” of glass is then carefully reheated and blown into its final shape. During this process the sharp edges of the design become smooth and the motive becomes more soft and blurred, a typical Graal effect. The Graal technique was a huge commercial success for Orrefors and was the beginning of what can is nowadays seen as the Swedish art glass movement.
Sonja regularly makes Graal “embryos” for glass artists at her studio in Frome, Somerset. She was fortunate enough to have completed a full 10 year apprenticeship with Neil Wilkin, where she worked for Artists using Graal in many different ways:
Rachel Woodman has used Graal as an external pure covering. The vessel’s rims were then cut and polished (by Steve Frey) to reveal the layers.
In his Metamorphosis series, Peter Bremers used Graal eggs with multiple colours, after cutting through layers to reveal bull’s eyes the pieces were blown into huge distorted bowls.
John Ford uses the art of colour layering and removal to an incredible technical level. His technique demands precision of colour thickness to create effects, like a glass graffiti artist, as one colour blends to the next.
I was fortunate enough to work for Monica Guggisberg and Philip Baldwin, who trained in Orrefors and then apprenticed Wilkie Adolfson, a Swedish glass master and Baldwin Guggisberg continue to use the Graal technique in the making of their pieces today. Baldwin/Guggisberg.
Back to our masterclass..
Day 1. Following the introduction, Sonja and I (both passionate about this process) did a demo for the students. We applied even colours around the iron, then blew them up into a Graal bubble. Using two benches, we shaped the bubble and wrapped it around a post, (a thick, specifically angled “parison”). The bubble was then heated, joined to the post, punty style, knocked off, and the opening heated and turned inside out over the cooler, solid post. This was then reheated and cut in, ready to knock off as our Graal “egg” (ready to decorate when cooled). After a few goes in clear, students started to create their own Graal embryos on the bench and were also given some adhesive resists tape to stick to some ready-made eggs to sandblast and decorate. These were heated up over lunchtime, ready to pick up and blow out. Sonja and I performed another demo in the afternoon, picking up the eggs on a blowing iron, smoothing and evening out the temperature, ready to gather over and blow. So at the end of this first busy day, everyone had made their own Graal egg, decorated another that was picked up and blown out into their desired shape! Phew!
Day 2 found the students getting in as much bench time as possible. As they had decorated eggs with their own designs on the previous day, we blew these into beautiful shapes, everyone finally began to understand the complexity and possibilities of the incredibly exciting process of Graal. See more photos from the course on our course gallery…
A big thank you to Sonja for sharing her expertise and to everyone who came and helped us keep this this amazing technique alive and well ..we already have a list forming for the next Graal class coming up in 2015.