Sunday, April 8, 2012

So That's How They Do It

We visited Rosetree Blown Glass Studio and Gallery across the Mississippi River in Algiers and had the opportunity to photograph the work of the artists in the studio. I thought the history of the studio was interesting and have included it with a description of what is happening in the photographs.

"When I split from my partner and a thriving glassblowing studio to be out on my own, one area in New Orleans was my only choice in relocating--Algiers Point. One building a vintage Art Deco movie theater, caught my interest. The perfect location for my studio, it offered space--6,000 square feet--high ceilings and room enough for a gallery. The major drawback was that it had been vacant for 10 years and was in extreme disrepair.

But, "with enough capital to start a new business, but not enough to take on such a big renovation project, (Mark Rosenbaum) set up Rosetree Glass Studio in rented space two blocks up the street from the theater in an old lawnmower repair shop."

(Mark [left] received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and became the first recipient of a Master of Fine Arts in glassblowing from Tulane University.)

"Over the next few years, I passed the theater quite often,... (and) as luck and hard work would have it, business grew to a point at which the 1,600 square foot former lawnmower repair shop was getting very cramped."

Along the far wall of the large studio were the furnaces. The circular door toward the right side of the photo housed the furnace in which clear glass is melted. The glass is held inside a crucible.

A piece begins when the glass blower reaches inside the furnace (left) and into the crucible that is filled with clear, melted glass and “gathers” a layer of molten glass on the end of a steel blow pipe (below).

The artist then rolls the molten glass on a steel table called a marver to give it a cylindrical shape.

What follows are a number of trips between the work area and the "Glory Hole" (furnace area shown in the photos, left and below) where the glass is then heated.

To achieve different colors in the final product, color glass chips and powders are added to the clear glass and then heated.

The glass blower sits and rests the pipe on the steel “arms” of the bench and turns it with one hand. With the other hand the artist uses tools such as cherry wood blocks, wet newspaper, wooden paddles and tools made of stainless steel (left and photos below).

The process of heating and turning in the Glory Hole and shaping at the bench will be repeated many times.

After plans to purchase two other properties fell through, "We closed (on the theater) on March 22, 1996. The building that we had dreamed about was finally ours--and then, reality set in!

"More than 50 percent of the roof was severely damaged (you could see the sky), and the floors and ceilings were a mess. As work progressed, we ran into more than our fair share of setbacks, including our general contractor having a heart attack, and our roofer disappearing for two weeks (and resurfacing in St. Louis), rain for an entire week after the roof was taken off, a handicap ramp that went through three changes so that it wouldn't take up all of our studio space, and a plumber who did not understand the needs of a glassblowing studio.

Once the shape is satisfactory, the piece has to be transferred to a “punty” – another steel pipe that’s been heating over flames. Moving the piece from the blow pipe to the punty will make it possible for the artist to create the opening of the vase or the bowl. The punty will be attached with a piece of clear glass from the furnace to to what will become the bottom of the piece.

"At the very start of this project, I already had an idea of what I wanted to do for the grand opening. Since we would have to move the furnace two blocks on a forklift, I thought, 'Why not have that forklift lead a parade with a brass band and second-line dancing?' We named the event 'Glass Fest.' The idea was received with great encouragement from the Algiers Point neighborhood.

"Our parade started at the old studio (two blocks away). With the brass band leading the way, (my family) second-lined in front of the forklift, which carried the glassblowing furnace. Following behind was a large number of friends, neighbors and people who had read (or heard) about the event.... By the time the parade reached the new studio, there were more than 250 people outside the building awaiting the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Glass Fest was a great success."

When it’s time to remove the piece from the punty, the blower hits it firmly so that the piece drops off (right and below).

The final step is then completed. Using Kevlar gloves, the artist picks up the scorching-hot piece and quickly transfers it to an annealing oven. This oven is kept at 960⁰F and then cooled down over a period of 14 hours to room tem-perature (

As I was photographing some of the finished glassworks in the gallery, I saw these pumpkins (below) and was struck by the accompanying
"Legend of the Mardi Gras Pumpkins." "A legend is told of a magical occurrence three hundred years or so ago. In the mysterious backwaters of the Barataria bayous in Louisiana, a crop of spectacular golden pumpkins was discovered. The valuable vegetation grew in the murky area that was believed to be the secret hiding place of ill-gotten pirate treasure. This incredible discovery remained a mystery until the present day.

"After Hurricane Katrina, a new harvest of incredible pumpkins surfaced along the bayous. The pumpkins were not golden, but multi-colored in hues of purple, green, and gold. Experts have analyzed the phenomenon and have speculated that high concentrations of Mardi Gras beads and dubloons found deposited near the colorful treasures enhanced their growth.

"Still a mystery, scientists have named them Curcubita Festivalis. Those lucky enough to own one call them "Mardi Gras Pumpkins™"!

"Mardi Gras Pumpkins™ are colorful, beautiful and bring happiness to those who are fortunate enough to have them. They report that their lives after finding Mardi Gras Pumpkins™ have been enhanced by love, blessings, good friends and good vibes" (

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