GAS 95
Asheville, North Carolina

Rev. ... 2003-07-23
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The body of this narrative was extracted from Hot Glass Bits #25 which was written at the time. Rather than installing pictures in that issue, I am editing and inserting pictures here. Much of the text is identical between the two pages.


FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN - Most of the rest of this issue will be notes and comments from the Glass Art Society 25th Conference, held in Asheville, NC, with studio tours, sessions and discussions and a visit to Penland. The first GAS conference was held in the area and the 10-12 people all meet in a single studio building shown in one of the slides. This year was one of the biggest yet, with up to 750 going to Penland where the previous big event had been about 200. I really enjoy seeing artists from the ads of Glass Magazine, especially when they stop me and say, "Hey, I like your newsletter." Thank you, Josh Simpson.

STUDIO VISITS - Tuesday, Wednesday and part of Thursday were devoted to studio visits in areas progressively closer to the conference site. I arrived for the Wednesday visits and spent the whole day driving around the area near Spruce Pine. I visited almost all the studios which mentioned doing blown glass. Very few of the studios were blowing glass.

The range of styles was amazing from the legendary grunge of Gil Johnson to the neat, trim organization of the Todds. Taking the time to talk to people in their own studios, talking about choices they had made was very nice. Since many of these people had apprenticed, trained with, or assisted other better known or older glassblowers, it was often possible to similarities of equipment in different places. Most of the studios were interesting in some way and ordinary in most ways.

As I arrived Rob Levin was busy finishing cleaning and negotiating with his daughter about how much food would be brought out right away. Rob has done medium scale blowing with lots of opaque color in the past, but has recently been doing similar sized pieces with shades of color and much larger pieces where long (3-4') frosted glass piece is fitted in a burned notch in a log and rope provides tension between the two. One of the latter is the cover for the Blue Spiral 1 "North Carolina Glass Focus" Exhibition brochure. By making his own color he has been able to control the effects he wants and melts in 5 pots. He remarked he was not using the latest technology and his annealer ramping is a motor driving a disk which winds up thread on another disk on the knob of a Variac to reduce the voltage. He was the first of several to mention a technique of folding frax to make a firm insulating layer. More below. Burnstein studio

Bill Burnstein is best known for drawing with glass cane on goblets and other objects using a torch on the cane while the goblet is still hot from first blowing. He has now gotten into larger clear objects with pairs of figures formed hot and adhered to the sides. He has served as a resource for the area with many younger artists having done apprenticeships. His NEW FURNACE was under construction, the base done and the interior having been carved from a laminated stack of Styrofoam. After applying ram castable, the foam would be cut out through the access port. Somewhere during the conference, perhaps here, someone said something and I suddenly realized that part of my thinking about VERMICULITE contained an error. Vermiculite is a cheap fluffy material used in gardening which is also used as insulation because it is basically puffed rock. I had always considered using it a design problem because it flows like sand. During a discussion someone casually said they would be applying a very light cement coating of vermiculite and mortar and I realized that any mix would provide the insulation and prevent the flow. I think I even remember hearing years ago of breaking up the old vermiculite insulation and remixing it with mortar.

I saw Gil Johnson's legendary grunge studio, now over twenty years old and about to be replaced. It was a prototype of a paper dome treated for waterproofing. It failed very soon after it was installed and was propped up inside with branches so it literally looks like an Indian wigwam inside. It is very small with the furnace in the middle and pathways wide enough for one person between the bags of batch ingredients to an annealer that looks like and opens like a large mailbox and to a standup work bench. Gil makes paperweights. He has purchased and is nearly done installing on a concrete slab a new dome made from metal silo components that include house water heating from the vent heat.

Lorretta Forde provides an example of another kind of survival. After getting involved in glass and assisting and apprenticing and teaching, she had virtually no savings for building her own studio. She was able to get a low interest business loan for $2800 and built a tiny box (10x10) of a studio on land of a school she was teaching at, on condition of teach glassblowing to the students, which she does. Her annealer was a washing machine and she glory hole's off the furnace. Her garden walk includes glass among the plants.

At the other extreme of neatness from Gil's place is the newly expanded studio of Yaffa Sikorsky-Todd and Jeff Todd. They make bright tall (12-15") flowers and millefiori/cane decorated solids and thick pill-shaped vases of trees in the glass. They make their own color bar, stringer, cane and millefiori. Their blowing space, besides being neat and well lighted, is nicely laid out with a split roll away top color pot furnace and roll aside top crystal furnace. Both furnaces have a drain and trap provision so that if a pot cracks the glass will drain downward, to a tray in the color and to a padded access area in the crystal. Frax provides insulation normally and if a drain occurs, collects the glass, which is removed with the frax. The frax is replaced with virtually no downtime and no damage to the brick of the furnace.

Vernon Brejcha, once in Kansas, is now permanently located near Spruce Pine, living and working in a two story former woodworking shop and owning all the land up to the crest of the hill. He has been making totems not unlike peace pipes with wood glass and feathers. David Wilson is working in a building that used to be the projection booth of the drive-in theater that is the grounds for Spruce Pine Batch. He is doing neon in blown shapes, including a workshop after the GAS and pieces in the outdoor exhibit. While I was visiting he blew and spun out a perfect 10" flat disk.

Rick and Valerie Beck have several "lines" of glass, blown and cast. They make large solid cane weights that stand on edge, with portions ground to show inside. Multiple layer blown pieces are mask sandblasted to show flowers and butterflies. She also sandblasts images, like large vegetables on white like planting sticks, which are then picked up onto blown pieces. Rick also casts large pieces that, even though done in segments require 2 months annealing. Gary Beecham makes thick glass bowls with colored tubes in the base. As Art Allison says and Gary uses, by the time a piece is knocked off, it better not be hot enough to damage fiberglass fabric covering a knock off table.

Twisted Laurel is an upscale gallery in downtown Spruce Pine ("downtown" literally means that, two streets parallel the railroad tracks and one is 30-40 feet lower than the other.) For the Glass Month and our conference, it was filled with glass, but always carries products of artists in the area. I discovered there that Judy Weilberger is now making handkerchief vases with filigree cane gathered early to produce a delicate wave of color in the final product.

Fiona Clark and Vincent DeLisle are a young couple down from Ohio who have setup to make blown glass vase-like containers (she does) with matched turned wooden lids (he does.) Her style is thick clear base tapered up into a colored tall oval bowl, sometimes with some clear color in the base. The shape in not unlike a Steuben bud vase, but generally larger to much larger. I thought they were good, I hope they can get the price being asked. She is also making mugs where she includes rings sliced from a 2" color cased tube as the handle, which look interesting but don't bring (she says) money to match the effort.

The most striking place to be left alone was in the display room for John Littleton and Kate Vogel. They are doing three major lines that are all stunning (and costly) and Jon had an errand to run and simply said, "Stay here and look at them, I'll be right back." One set of pieces are rectangular clear blocks with faces, masks, and hands cast hollow inside. Another is faces and hands where the hands are squeezing or otherwise massaging or distorting the faces and the hands and faces are usually of opposite sex. Third is their famous glass bags both frosted lumped together and clear with bags inside. Fourth are vases and flowers made with Paragon ceramic paints on surfaces that end up inside the glass.

Judson Guerard Guerard studiois now set up in a large space in a brick two story hardware store kind of place at a sharp bend in the road of Loafer's Glory after running the Penland shop for a while. He is producing very long stemmed, air twist stem goblets with ground rims (which saves punty work) and larger sculptural pieces. Judson pointed out that doing a small gather on the end of the stem makes working the foot easier than trying to put the recently worked stem into the foot cookie. He had ground a pair of jacks with very thin blades which he liked for working goblets. He uses a pneumatic optic mold on the bowls and objected to the noise of the air, until he realized that he could run the exhaust via a hose to well away from the working area.

My last visit, as the clock reached 6 p.m., was to Yoav Greenberg, settling in after moving from Israel via New York, was building equipment at the top of a tall hill (walked to by visitors) at the end of a very twisty road. Yoav had made a glory hole with the folded frax method (folded frax is stiff enough to support the inner lining at some loss of insulation.) On his small glory hole, he just used the method described next, but on the large one he inserted insulating fire brick spacers between the frax to support the liner if the frax should sag. Yoav covered the frax with Saran Wrap then poured 1-1.5" of castable between an inner form and the frax. Besides covering the frax, reducing the fried fibers risk, many users like the increased heat retention of the castable playing against the increased insulation of the frax. A detail he likes that I am not sure works with the angles involved is the entry to his furnace. He made his furnace opening round with one square corner in the lower right. His door has the lower right corner cut away, so when it is moved left a few inches, he has an access port about 3x3" for small bit gathers. My problem arises from the angles involved, which I could not test, as to whether a punty would hit the edges of the door before being tilted enough to get into the glass.

GAFFERS BENCH - My Thursday studio visits included the SIU portable studio (see below) and a long drive to Chaffe McIlhenny's for a very pleasant visit and a view of an unusual tool being used. For someone from Texas, where driving is often a lesson in long gray lines, slinging a car in the North Carolina mountains (sharp 15 mph U turn every 5 car lengths) is an adventure and consumes time. I was really anxious I was going to find no one in place as I spent more and more time getting there. In fact, he was taking a lunch break when I arrived. He normally works alone and when he realized he was going to do that (because of preferring to be assertively rural), he looked for tools that would help. The one he bought over a decade ago is Dudley Gibberson's patented Automatic Gaffer's Bench (AGB) and he made two goblets while I visited. The bench is steel with two ball bearing yokes, one of which has a pull down clamp. A geared down motor under the bench surface engages the gear on the shaft and turns it. The bench requires a gear about 2" across be mounted on each pipe or punty to be used on it. Also included are two carefully aligned ball bearing yokes for the punty. The AGB, since its speed does not vary, does not totally automate the process. When the glass is very soft, McIlhenny hand spins the pipe on the bearings. But it centers the glass while he gathers the stem, foot and punty and keeps the punty perfectly aligned with the piece. He uses hot punties -- that is he replaces the punty at the warmer instead of dropping it in a crack off bucket, trimming the scrap before picking up his next stem. Thus he is not building the hot bit for the stem on a bare punty each time, but adding glass to a full diameter core. He also uses a jack with four blades on each side to flute his stems and has the thickest walled furnace (about 12") I have yet seen. Chaffe and his wife, Bonnie Hamilton, work glass together. Before the kids started coming, she blew glass, but found herself interrupted afterward. Now she designs form and color of layered shaded pieces, which he blows and into which she sandblasts designs. Sandblasting can be stopped at any time for a crying kid. Besides the large production goblets, he also makes medium large bowls including one with a second rim from an added gather that came about because it could be worked alone on the AGB, and hot formed sculptures that feature clear core brightly colored cane arranged in an optic molded shape that then given a single wave-like bend.

HOUSES AND GARDENS - Almost everyone was eager to talk about their gardens and their home and its view or arrangement. And I enjoyed the amount of glass that was used artistically in the gardens. This ranged from blown balls being used almost like rocks to tall shapes that might replace small bushes to colored glass that competed with blooming flowers. The finest example of the last was the Todd's hot worked daffodil type flower sitting politely in a row with three other natural blooms. Another glass worker skilled at flower spotting reported his reaction at first was bewilderment at this odd species of flower.

SIU PORTABLE - Southern Illinois University brought their trailer mounted glass blowing setup to the Conference, blowing glass for the public at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway and using visiting glassblowers for demos to empty the pots. The rig is now about 25 years old (conceived in 1969) and is neatly packaged on a custom built tandem drop axle horse trailer chassis. It is heavy and today would almost certainly be built with a goose neck hitch. The setup is not self contained, requiring a locally supplied propane tank (100 gallons per day is used) and electricity (220 volts 60 amps divided on board to 4 - 110 circuits.) Starting at the left rear corner, it contains a glory hole and furnace each with slide out yoke, three front opening annealers on the right side, storage that goes all across the trailer with lift out floor panels, and a front section for annealer controls, air compressor, small refrigerator. The storage section also includes the breaker boxes and contactors for the annealers on the wall. In this space go the gaffers bench, a barrel shaped color pot furnace and all the tools and containers needed. The fender on one side is welded to the storage door so much easier access is provided when the door is open. The trailer is used a few times a year, so parts, the controllers, for example, are mounted for quick removal when the trailer is in storage.

TECHNICAL EXHIBITS were larger than the '93 Conf. I attended and offered a great opportunity to compare tools as all the makers were there. I took the opportunity to compare jacks for pressure and shape, with the following notes. Shape Edge Pull Cost Anchor Tear Sharp Med. 59.95 Heavy available A.R.T.Co. Oval Sharp Med. 102.50 Steinert Tear Sharp Heavy 150.00 9", "Jordan Jacks" Moore Tear Sharp Med. 160.00 9" Paoli Flat Blunt Med-Hvy. 55.00 Putsch Flat Blunt Heavy 45.00 Murano Style Tear Sharp Light 75.60 These are clearly my judgments. Moore's jacks are generally considered the nearest to the Italian competition. Several of these can provide a different stiffness and other changes. Jim Moore has a new spiffier catalog. Putsch was there with their lower priced stuff and the new Glass Batch company mentioned earlier in HB was there.

NEW - MOLDS - A company new in the USA market is Jacobsson-Sweden [Jacobssons Formverkstad AV, Jarnvagsgatan 14, S-360 51 Hovmamtorp, Sweden, FAX preferred communication (Countrycode 46) 478-403-70, Voice 46-478-402-58] which is selling mold making services as well as wood and graphite tools. Using FAX for communication because of time zone difference and design needs and in business since 1969, Thomas Jacobsson can make wood, graphite, ceramic and steel molds to meet the needs of various quantities of glass making. He made the ceramic molds for the Nobel Prize Dinner tableware. Just entering the USA market, he is also selling wood blocks of alder (which is lighter than cherry) in various sizes (at what I fear are too high prices.) Blocks may be bought unhandled with a flat on the side for attaching a bracket (also sold) or with handles carved in the same block (unlike most blocks I have seen with a dowel handle fitted in a hole in the block.) Prices depend on the rate of exchange, but examples listed are #1 70x60mm $48.50/$68 (no handle/handled), #5 160x135mm $76.50/$96, and #8 230x200mm $97.50/$117. Custom design blocks are $10 over similar size. Other products include graphite Pacioffi sticks (e.g. 10mm x 300mm long $38/each), wooden paddles (e.g. 125mm x 600mm $11.80) and an adjustable optic (brass blades held between steel end plates) at the gasp producing price of $850 for a 16 blade unit with about a 2.25" hole. [As a reminder, 25.4mm=1" and 100mm is about 4".] Nice color brochure explaining materials and showing products, no USA rep yet. -

POWDER CUPS - Mark Anderson (Anderson's Ceramics, 619-940-9114) in a flier given out at the Wilton Ceramics table, is advertising ceramic powder pickup cups for frit and powder. A drawing suggests a squash shell mounted on cross brace legs (or a large avocado shell or a pear.) Sized for up to 4", 5", or 6" gathers at $15, $18, and $22. (Divas is considering getting some cast in aluminum, they told me.)

CONFERENCE MEETINGS were widely varied and (as always happens at these things) sometimes conflicting in interest in the same time slot. Summarizing everything I saw would take too much time and space and discourage you from going next time (in Boston in June of 96, by the way) or from joining and getting the Journal.
The most jammed Discussion group was "Building a Studio on a Shoe String Budget" which so rapidly filled the assigned room that I pulled out and went to "Low Cost Solutions to Health, Safety, and Pollution Control Issues" which was a most lively discussion, highlighted in the middle by the arrival of Lino Tagliapietra who stopped the discussion just by walking in and certainly enhanced it after that with some very strong opinions about the need for safety especially eyes and skin. The strongest concern was about effects of fiber dust and glass chemical dust, particularly lead. Suggestions included respirators when working with batch and grinding, good directed ventilation, cleaning of dust using damp cloths and sweeping compound and designing the studio so it can be washed down at least monthly. Lino was particularly concerned about shielding, not just for eyes, but for heat effects on the body. Ironically, working in the new studio at Penland all forms of protection were lacking.
A remarkable session for me was "The Glassmakers" by Samuel Kurinsky (who has written a book of the same title.) Starting with the generally accepted belief that glass making uniquely of all materials started in exactly one place (the lower end of what was later became the Fertile Crescent.), Kurinsky has spent years documenting where glass was made and when. He feels he is able to demonstrate its movement with time through the Crescent to a time where for about 8 centuries it was preserved in Canaan and Judea as it died out in the Crescent. Later it moved back into the upper crescent when Canaan was overrun and workers were forcibly moved there. Kurinsky's strongest contentions are that there is no such thing as Egyptian, Syrian, or Roman glass. Except for a very limited period in Egypt, he contends that all the glass found there can traced as tribute from Canaan. Roman citizens were absolutely prohibited by law from the kind of employment involved in making glass and language references tie imported workers to glass. And Syria/Palestine as a reference did not exist until after the rebellion in Judea about 140 CE/AD. Therefore, Kurinsky contends that until the forced conversion of Jews to Christianity before the Renaissance, all of the glass making (and he is careful to point out the difference between glass making from raw materials and glass forming - remelting - existing glass) was carried on by Jewish craftsmen and museums which label glass in traditional ways bury this contribution. He has been able to convince several museums to at least change "Roman Glass" to "Glass of the Roman Period." He is working to stop using Syrian as a description for glass produced in Judea/Canaan when all the other products of the area are labeled with the territory names in effect when they were produced.

OUTDOOR GLASS - Friday night (5/12) was opening of several exhibitions as well as the outdoor exhibit of glass. Buses were provided for visiting the more remote locations. The outdoor exhibit was setup on the edge of Pack Square, the heart of the downtown area. Pieces shown included a wall with glass inserts lighted from behind, a layout of various cast and blown glass pieces with neon and other lighting; a tree with straight neon tubes placed in it; another tree with light bulbs bouncing on elastic tubes; cast hands with small lights at the base holding water filled cups with floating candles; and several odd shapes bulbous and pointy with neon and other gases inside.

AND GALLERIES - Downtown Asheville has a number of galleries that were participating in the North Carolina Glass Month and Conference. Blue Spiral I was the gallery with the most glass and it was remarkable to see four or five examples of an artists only seen in singles before. A neat experience was discussing Richard Ritter's pieces with him. I had assumed they were cast, especially since the top is often a limpid looking pool over the murrini floating inside the glass. One of the pieces had a dip in the top and I was asking how it was done. He told me that rather than being cast, the pieces were blown and gathered, the murrini being picked up like frit. The top surface is actually the inside of the bubble, the top being worked by hand on the punty, about 10-15 pounds of glass. Unlike cast, the exact layout of the inside pieces isn't seen until it opened. A Toto-not-in-Kansas moment occurred in the back corner when a Chihuly piece (large lip wrapped bowl with smaller bowls inside) had "Serious inquiries are invited" instead of a price -- when the piece next to it cost $16,000! Stephen POWELL was a constant presence because of the Blue Spiral 1 sponsored exhibit in a space of the art center which featured eleven of his huge colorful bottle shapes brightly lighted in the windows at a main corner of downtown. It was fun to talk to him about the pieces and see them really up close. He brought them over the mountains in the back of a jeep, packed with pieces of foam, about $100,000 worth. My instant image was a newspaper headline, "Jeep accident in mountains, broken colored glass found on highway."

PENLAND was the feature of Saturday and we overwhelmed the place and its new glass studio. Penland is one of several schools that came out of the Arts and Crafts movement, Danish folk schools, and a desire to preserve mountain crafts and provide cash employment. Others include the John C. Campbell Folk School and Berea (which I have also visited.)
Generally these schools provide a rustic setting, home-like housing and small classes scattered in small buildings around the site. None of which has anything to do with several hundred visitors arriving in ten buses (which were admirably packed/parked on arrival so they were ready to depart later.) Penland is arranged in a U shape on the wooded slopes around a pastoral valley floor.
Penland Hot wallThe new Bill Brown glass studio tops the crest at the base of the U, just above the old studio and both were in operation for the visit, the new one just barely. The old studio has a realistic "audience" space of about 8, into which 20-30 people arranged themselves. The new studio is much bigger, but the 100-200 people who tried to watch did a good job of blocking each other. In the new studio, the hot area is on one side of a huge steel I-beam with ventilation fans behind it. There are two recuperative furnaces and three glory holes of various sizes. The work area includes overhead plug-ins for gas and retractable compressed air hoses for three work bench locations. Missing when we visited were any shields. The lampworking area is a good sized room with about 10 piped benches. Other spaces in the building include coldworking and a machine shop type area.
Penland building structure and viewing spaceThe demos done in the new shop included Lino Tagliapietra and a huge crowd from immediately after the dedication of the building to the man who headed Penland during the time glass became a part of its operation. Richard Jolley did a large clear head of a baseball player and Gene Koss ended the day with three fiery/smoky demos of his casting methods, which involved eight or more people and up to 4 torches working over the glass and a lot of hardware. Six other demos were done in the old hot shop and in the new and old lamp working studios.

Penland, in addition to offering classes with scholarships, provides a number of opportunities for artists, including teaching and assistantships, and remarkable residencies. These latter provide an empty studio space and living quarters at very low rental ($30 a month each for a past residency is one example) for two to three years. Many artists spoke at sessions and during visits about the turn around time this gives. The artist must equip the studio space and most take their equipment with them when they leave, often building in the western North Carolina area. Several of resident studios in the "Barns" area were open during our visit and I went by. Joe Nielander was in the process of setting up his space at the start of his residency, having had a show, "Meandering Motion", at Marx Gallery in Chicago last month. He has been making kite shapes of sagged glass over 3/8" stainless rod. Variations include the rod also used as streamers, as string (running in and out of the wall), and as springy mount. Some of the kites have thin wavy glass tails held by two bolts. Some of the "kites" have shapes more like sea creatures. His studio space is several rooms about 8x10 and I understand the building was the original glass residence space, much rebuilt. Other open studios were housed in a long barn and tend to be one long room with posts. Living quarters are in another building.

On my way to the conference, I stopped by John C. Campbell Folk School, which I have known about since college and which offers similar classes, but no glass. Both setups are very open and friendly and expect people to wander around and share parts of the experience.

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