Saturday, July 18, 2009

Artistry at Icefire

How many brochures have you read that invite people to see artists at work in their studio?

If you've accepted these invitations, how often have you felt in the way as you try to find an observation position?

If you should find yourself in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and read Icefire Glassworks' brochure inviting the public to observe the artists, take them up on their invitation--they mean it.

The owners have the homey-clutter studio (or hotshop) set up so that it's very public-friendly, with benches in front of a sheet of glass so that you may watch the creative process.

During our time observing the art of glassblowing, two of the artists were in the observation space in the retail store explaining the steps and answering questions from the handful of visitors.

We watched Mark Gordon and then Jim Kingwell each create one piece during our stay. The series of photos show some of the stages in the production of a glasswork by Jim.

This clump of glass at the end of a blowpipe (photo above) was his starting point.

In the back room of the hotshop, is a round gas-fed furnace called a tank. It contains the molten glass and is held at about 2150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mark is collecting molten glass on the end of a hollow steel pipe called a blowpipe.

The larger the final piece, the more layers of molten glass that must be added over the course of the shaping process.

As Mark is returning from the furnace to his work bench with the additional molten glass, you can see the smaller furnace (or glory hole) in the center of the photo (above). To prevent the vessel from cooling too much and breaking, the artist or assistant will re-heat it in the glory hole.

In addition to layers of molten glass being added, frits (glass that has been melted and broken into small pieces and used to color larger pieces) are added to contribute different colors to the final work. Care must be given to working with colors of similar "working temperatures", so that the piece will not crack during the production phase.

Jim is shown here using a marver, a heavy flat steel plate, to cool and shape the glass during the blowing process until a bullet-shaped mass is formed.

A blowtorch is sometimes used to correct or modify one spot in the glasswork. Here Jim was "removing" a bubble from the piece.

At one point the glassblower (Mark, in the photo on the left) breathes air into the blowpipe and a small bubble emerges. Here Jim is holding a piece of water-soaked flexible piece of cork in his right hand to shape the piece.

Add a neckline with special tongs to make it easier to disconnect the neck of a glass object from the blowpipe.

Here a punty, a solid steel rod (shown on the right with the orange tip in the photo), is attached to what will be the bottom of the glass object. The punty is used to finish blown-glass objects.

By dropping water onto the neck line and lightly tapping the blowpipe, the pipe will be disconnected from the glass.

Then holding the punty (left in the photo), the artist will then heat the lip of the object and then flare it open.

In one final dramatic step, Jim heated the glass piece, turned it upside down and spun it. Centrifugal force flared the open end, forming a bowl. Quickly, he took this piece to another work area where the glass bowl was separated from the punty and quickly put in the annealer (the metal container shown in the left of photo #2 above). The annealer has a constant temperature of 900 degrees. The temperature will be lowered about five times over several hours. This will insure that the glass objects will cool at a uniform rate, thus resisting cracking.

This bowl was available for sale in the shop and appeared very similar to the bowl we saw being created.

Jim, with his 38 years of experience, made the process look easy; talking with Mark, we got the impression that with 8 years of experience he felt he was just beginning to feel confident.

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