Luke arrived at the studio early with a big box of goodies, found objects to “mummify”: an assortment of scientific lampworking parts, a brass clock, a badger’s skull, and we even had a dead cockerel waiting in the freezer for him too (Don’t ask). These objects were destined for some pretty unusual and even hazardous kiln and hot shop experiments over the course of our first exciting day.
Hot Glass Trails and ‘Super Material’
First we looked at the results of trailing hot glass from the furnace over an object covered with a blanket, in this case a fire blanket. Unlike the continual stands that wrap centrifugally around a turning form (usually glass trails are pulled over a turning form on a blowing iron) we could see that pulling a uniform thickness of trail from a hot bit gathered from the furnace was problematic and unreliable. Another problem we found was that fibreglass blanket (fire blankets are usually fibreglass), is prone to sticking to the hotter molten glass. Hot glass gathered at 1100 degrees C will burn material it falls on, but after only a few seconds it will cool in the air and fail to stick to anything, thus shaping it requires additional pressure and pulling. This resulted in various thicknesses and shapes of strand. Some research and investigation into the materials and types of temperatures tolerated by fire blankets really did throw up some variables. Luckily we found some fireproof material capable of withstanding 1000 degrees C. With some fabric samples, we started to cut glass and lay onto small patches of the new ‘super material’ to test its strength and capacities in the kiln. We tested samples of different thickness float at different temperatures to see how it picked up the form and texture of the material.
The Mock Leg
Luke was soon turning to another vein of ideas involving a kiln-formed figure, appearing to be wrapped in blankets. The piece would be formed from a single glass sheet slumped in the kiln over a form (wrapped in the fibre material), rather than woven from the trailed thread of hot furnace glass, or a mobile vitrigraph, as had been discussed. We discussed ways to make a replica of the figure. Our kilns were too small, at 1m long, and it seemed crazy to try anything so big so soon. We began a “mock” leg, the solution to our dilemma of working too big too soon. One leg of a pair of jeans was stuffed with newspaper and a shoe (Luke’s own!) was attached. As Luke stood bare socked on one foot, we covered the ensemble with plaster bandage onto a flat overspill surface. When hardened the shell was turned over and in-filled with refractory mould mix. This was then put into the kiln and surrounded with fibre blanket laid out to exaggerated material folds, and a piece of float glass balanced on top. The kiln was fired with the hope that we would pick up enough texture and the fold effect to create what Luke was searching for. While this was coming up, we discussed the next few ideas over lunch, joined by our resident engineer and technician, David Billington, Katie Huskie and James Devereux from the fabulous Devereux and Huskie Glass studio, all of whom had given up their afternoon to experiment and prototype ideas in the hot shop with Luke.
We began in the afternoon by testing a hotshop technique Luke had always wanted to try ..encasing. A badger skull that Luke really loved and wanted to encapsulate in glass, was shown to James and Katie, who started to gather and blow a large oval bubble for the job. The end of the bubble was opened up like a cup, ready to receive the object. Knowing that this may create a bit of smoke, we were all prepared to see the skull burn and smoke a bit, but remain fairly intact. James used a traditional paperweight technique where the encapsulated object was normally glass …not badger! The skull was placed into the hot bubble, then the bubble is sealed again and the excess air/steam is allowed to escape through and up the blowing iron. We used a vacuum, to suck out the excess air. So in the skull popped, and it looked good, but on the next reheat, when the vacuum compressed the bubble, the smoke turned into a thick choking cloud of possibly one of the most horrible smells around, burning badger bones. The blowing irons are still unusable and the smell may stay in them forever!
After being fumigated from the hotshop, we took some time out to recover and review this obviously “too hot for bones to survive” process. Now pastorelli was taken out of the corner (mostly used for heating canes) and a chicken thigh was placed onto a kiln shelf. Rapidly cooking the chicken at 1100C in the minimelt soon had the studio smelling of barbecue, but the piece incinerated, eliminating the bones to ash again. Two partridges were brought in (dead), and we experimented with casting them with refractory moulds, to see if this would reveal a more successful approach to glass encapsulation.
Next we moved onto the sand museum. Luke has small bottles filled with sand from the Sahara and Arizona deserts. Like an old fashioned egg timer, we made pieces by first blowing a small bubble and carefully pouring sand down the pipe, then we reheated the bubble and sealed the sand in. This took a while, and so, impatiently the girls discovered a quicker and more efficient way of blowing the bubbles, Christmas bauble-style, knocking it off and pouring the sand into the ball through a copper shute, then sealing up the bubble with a hook. The sand must have had some vapour in it, so it threw up bubbles into the hot glass and cracked many of them.
Finally we got one to work by preheating and drying the sand, then putting on a hook with small air gap to breathe. Next progression is to try a lamp-worked one too. Luke had brought in a working and beautiful old clock (mostly brass) belonging to his grandfather. In a similar way to before, we encapsulated it in glass by opening up a bubble, and trapping the form inside, then vacuuming out the air, sucking the walls of the bubble inwards, thus decreasing any air gaps. This time no clouds of toxic smoke and it worked …a Dali-esque style solid piece! …can’t wait to see the results. Meanwhile Helga set about making two moulds of partridges, ready to burn out and hot fill with glass.
Here are some photos of our day:
End of Day 1
Join us for a 4-day masterclass…
If you are inspired by our Luke Jerram residency and would like the chance to come and experiment with glass as part of your own creative development, we are running a 4-day masterclass ‘Communicating with Glass’ over a long weekend in April. This will be an experimental opportunity open to all artists and makers regardless of any glass making experience.
Luke Jerram will join forces with master glass artists Louis Thompson and Max Jacquard to look at how the making process can inform our ideas and vice versa.
For more information and booking please visit the course page: CLICK HERE