Editors’ Spotlight: The Glass Guru, Inc

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Bob Thompson

and His Fabulous Glass from Around the World

(Bob is not only a member of our guild…..but spent most of his life working with incredible glass products from all over the world that were used in mostly architectural projects. He lives in Portland OR and has also been a longtime supporter of our guild plus done classes with and purchased glass art from many of our members. He is sharing some of his unique history with glass here. We will break this story and photos into three parts over the next three newsletters. The last section will show his more recent innovative use of mostly non fusible glass using special UV glues.)

I got into the International Decorative Glass business more by default than intention.It seemed, at the time, no one else could see the potential, creative possibilities and market for the beautiful and unusual glass I was fortunate to have gained access to.The glass business was the final link in the chain of six distinct, unique and satisfying careers that stretched, unbroken, back through my life. I couldn’t proceed to the next link until the last one had been forged in place. There was also an enormous amount of serendipity, synchronicity and blind luck involved that connected this chain together.

Bob Thompson, our Glass Guru

The foundation started with a child who always liked making and building stuff and helping others who were doing the same. It continued with a wonderful, transformative High School art teacher and then an extensive and comprehensive education in architecture, followed some years later by a glorious four years in Europe. This was an Age long before computers, cell phones, computer aided design (CAD), color TV and the internet. Everything was done by hand, lettering, arrowheads at the ends of dimension lines, prospectives and watercolor skies done in the bathtub for project renderings.

Skipping ahead through the next exciting, dynamic thirty-six years, we have to pause a tthe link preceding the last glass link in my life chain.I was asked by a friend, who had taken over the Pella Window franchise in Oregon, to run the Commercial window, department of one, since I was familiar with most of the architects in town and a member of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). These were part of the residue of relationships from the previous career that was now complete. I had also recently completed a course in the new Auto Cad technology that had recently come to market that pre-empted my MBA program at PSU which no longer seemed relevant at this point in my life at the tender age of 45.

A fabulous and ever changing play of light possible with glass in architecture

The time in the commercial portion of Pella produced some noteworthy projects such as the Mt. Saint Helen’s Visitors Center, the Vollum Science Center at OHSU, the window replacement in the historic McKensie Hall at OHSU, student housing window replacement at Willamette University, window replacement in the historic Post Office building in Corvallis with large double-hung windows that only Pella could do, the Engineering building at OIT in Klamath Falls, the tear down and windows in the rebuilt, historic Crater Lake Lodge and Ranger buildings, the window replacement in the Children’s wing of the Providence Medical Center in Portland and the Water Resource Building for the Portland Water Department with the largest order for tilt-turn windows anywhere in the country.

One of the unique features of Pella windows happened to be the introduction of low emissivity glass (Low-E) that totally revolutionized the energy efficiency of windows and the cost savings in energy use for customers. No one else in the window industry was offering this technology and no one was producing this type of glass in the States. As a result, Pella was buying it from Glaverbel in Brussels, Belgium. One interesting facet of the glass business is that there were only six major manufacturers in the world and they owned all the other glass companies. By chance, the company that owned Glaverbel was Asahi Glass Company in Japan, the largest glass producer in the world.

Again, a gorgeous play of light that changes as the sunlight moves across a building.

They had been part of the massive Mitsubishi conglomerate that had, theoretically, been broken up into separate pieces after World War II, but there still remained some close interlocking relationship between the companies. As a result of my dealings with Asahi, through their subsidiary in the U.S., AMA Glass (one Asahi representative, one from Mitsubishi and one American), I was introduced to their lady rep. who had been marketing Asahi glass throughout the East Coast, South and Mid-West for some ten years. They had been selling mostly wire-glass for safety installations, but she showed me their catalog of amazing interior glass unlike anything anyone could possibly imagine in this country and Iwas totally ‘hooked’. She also showed me some samples of their line of ‘Shoji glass’ laminated patterns.

To a person with creative inclinations, this was exciting stuff and I could see the potential for diversifying my marketing efforts to all the Interior Designers as well as architects in town. I contacted the AMA Glass manager at their office in Los Angeles and he agreed to come to Portland and, over a cup of tea, we agreed to import and market their interior glass products. This had never been done before, since Asahi had not the slightest interest in marketing these products in this country because they could sell their entire interior glass production at home. I happened to show some of the Shoji patterns to the Interior Designer working on the new NIKE International Headquarters in Beaverton and they were interested.

The beautiful tower in Orlando Florida.

Culturally, the Japanese are interested in privacy, while the Americans are interested in transparency. One of the patterns was selected, but was too opaque, so a NIKE team flew over to Tokyo and had a meeting with Asahi. In two weeks, Asahi came back with two more transparent versions, ‘Cloud Dragon 6 and 8’, the higher number being the most transparent, and ‘Cloud Dragon 8’ was approved. The Pella International Glass business was off and running (pun intended). We imported and furnished all of the glass in the doors, relites, signage, work cubicles and name plates on the desks throughout all the buildings in the complex, the airplane hanger in Hillsboro and later, the additional Sequent Computer buildings that were leased in an expansion off the main campus.

Our little Pella franchise had also expanded into doors, wood trim and mill work for the residential market as a diversification move. Unfortunately, this did not meet with resounding approval at the Mother Pella headquarters in Pella, Iowa. They surmised that we were getting too far from the primary business of windows and doors as well as the other Pella products and we needed to promptly exit all this glass foolishness and other extraneous distractions.

Both transmitted and reflected light affect the look of glass structures.

This was the beginning of the financial demise of our franchise in Oregon for a number of other non-related reasons. Eventually, the franchise was sold to the one in California and later to Washington, effectively ignoring Oregon. The owner decided to shut down the commercial unit along with the Asahi glass distribution and so, this link in the chain came to a necessary end.

An ever changing light colors and patterns……
A different hour and a different look.

Editors’ Spotlight – Bob Leatherbarrow

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All Fired Up!

Are you mired down in the Sargasso Sea, struggling to make headway and searching for the winds of creativity? If you are, it’s no wonder, because it has been a tough couple of years. With a prolonged pandemic keeping us isolated most of the time, a sputtering economy reducing gallery and craft show sales, and a rising inflation rate limiting disposable income for art collectors and creators alike, it feels like we are treading water at best. So for me it’s time to reach for my go-to life preserver, the one that always saves me from the doldrums and guarantees to get my creative juices and kilns all fired up. Yes, life preservers come in many shapes and sizes. The one I describe in this article is the one that fits me. But who knows? If you think you’re in need of rescue, it might fit you too!

It starts with a personal story. We moved from Calgary to Salt Spring Island off the coast of Vancouver Island in 2008 which means I didn’t have a functioning studio for almost a year. Surprisingly, when my new pristine state-of-the-art studio was ready for its grand opening I had what I now refer to as my “crisis of confidence.” In short, I found myself asking two questions. The first was: can I still do it? After all I hadn’t worked in kilnformed glass for a year. The second, more important question was: do I still WANT to do it? I had been working in one style for about ten years and, well, that creative well seemed to be running dry.

What I decided to do was take several months as a “self imposed residency” during which I would step outside my comfort zone and work on something totally new. The happy result was an original body of work that not only reenergized my creativity, but also rekindled my passion to work with glass. My residency was so successful that now I do one annually, usually early in the new year.

Self-imposed residencies consist of several components:
• Identify an idea/style that I want to explore
• Answer the question: Why do this artistic exploration?
• Develop a managed plan, i.e., a roadmap, for the project
• Do any necessary testing using the scientific method
• Mitigate the risk by adopting practices that reduce the chance of failure

Why Do this Artistic Exploration?

It should be fairly easy for you to answer this question about motivation as you start down a new path because it is about the values that define you. Your new body of work may arise out of social issues that you hold dear, be based on life experiences, represent aspects of a previous career, provide an emotional outlet, be prompted by a desire to create something beautiful, or be the outcome of other values that are important to you.

Knowing and describing what motivates you is helpful in many ways. It informs your creative process, forms an important part of your artist statement, and is useful for explaining your artwork to others. For example, imagine yourself standing beside your piece at the opening of an exhibition and a potential collector looks at your work and then turns to you and asks “What’s this all about?”. You can answer this question many ways but what a collector is really looking for is your story about this piece, about WHY you made it. It not only helps them relate to your motivation and form a connection with you, which may result in a sale/purchase, but also allows them to share your story with others when showing them the new addition to their art collection.

A Managed Plan

The “managed plan” described here is essentially a roadmap for the project and is derived entirely from best business practices. As applied to art projects, a managed plan consists of five steps: define a goal; develop a diverse range of ideas; refine and test the ideas to determine a favourite; create the finished piece based on your refined idea; and, get feedback on the execution of the piece.

Define your goal by answering “why do this exploration?” as explained above. Revisit your goal as you continue working through the other steps in the plan.

Develop ideas illustrating your goals by making a series of quick concept sketches or journal notes. The main objective in this step is to generate many, diverse ideas that reflect your goals. Focus on creating numerous spontaneous sketches rather than a few precise, beautifully rendered representations. Also search the internet for images that document styles, history, and provenance of artwork relevant to your goals and concept.

Refine your concept sketches by choosing the best, redrawing and improving them, and gradually reducing the number of sketches to one or a manageable few. Build models from cardboard or styrofoam to test 3D perspectives of sculptural pieces.

Create small sample test tiles to ensure that materials such as glass powders will perform as expected; that design concepts will look as planned; that glass properties such as striking, chemical reactions, surface tension, and heatwork will work as anticipated; and that firing schedules are effective. Also use these sample tiles to test the coldworking processes and tools required for the gallery quality finish you want. Keep these test tiles small to avoid wasting materials and to ensure that the tests themselves are not “precious.” Solve any problems at this stage before committing to the materials and effort required to create the artwork itself. If you need to brush up on your firing schedules I recommend Firing Schedules for Kilnformed Glass: Just Another Day at the Office (https://www.leatherbarrowglass.com/firing-schedules-for-kilnformed-glass).

With the groundwork of defining, refining, and testing your concept completed, you can move on to creating your art piece with confidence.

After completing and delivering the piece to the gallery or collector, it is time to get feedback. Ask gallery staff how customers are reacting to the piece, if they have favourite colour combinations, and for any other comments. If during the creative process you had problems with the glass materials it would be worthwhile discussing them with the glass manufacturer. If you had problems with kiln performance or coldworking tools it would also be worthwhile discussing them with experts.

Avoid the temptation to skip steps in your managed plan. Although it may seem like a protracted process, it works in business and it definitely works in art!

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is a simple and logical approach to conducting an experiment. In our case the experiments are the sample test tiles in our managed plan, as described above. It starts with defining a question such as “will this piece with design pieces lying on a thick sheet glass base thermally shock during initial heating if heated at a ramp rate of 300ºF/hour (166ºC/hour)?”.

If your question is based on a knowledge of the properties of glass and personal experience, then you may be able to predict, or hypothesize, that the test will be a success. If the test is successful then your hypothesis is valid and you can move forward

If your test is not successful, then analyze what went wrong using visual observations of the failure (where did it break? how explosive was the break?) and your knowledge of relevant glass properties (such as glass is a poor conductor of heat, glass expands during initial heating). In this example either the ramp rate was too fast, or perhaps the design elements on top of the sheet glass prevented heat from getting into the base glass below the design element.

Plan a new experiment to retest the original question, varying only one parameter. By varying only one parameter you will know what single factor controls the outcome. If the new test is successful, then your question has been answered and you can move on. If your new test is not successful, then continue testing, changing one parameter at a time, until you have successfully answered your question and you know how to proceed.

Keep the test tiles small and use scrap material wherever possible. If annealing is not a significant risk, or not a factor in the experiment, then don’t waste time and energy annealing the piece. These are test tiles that can be discarded and should not be considered precious.

Testing using the scientific method will not only answer important questions and help ensure success in creating your piece, but will also help you develop experience in understanding the properties of glass and how these relate to making visual observations as glass is heated and cooled in the kiln. Do not consider broken test pieces as failures. They are important steps to take and lead to successful projects. They are part of your experience base.

Risk Mitigation

Put simply, risk mitigation is adopting practices that reduce the chance of catastrophic failure. The most important way to limit failure is to develop firing schedules that are based on an understanding of the properties of glass, and of the critical visual observations associated with kiln forming processes. Do not rely on the vagaries of kiln gods and goddesses. They will only let you down.

Most of my art is created by building from components, another good way to mitigate risk. Using components I can choose the best design elements and eliminate those that detract from the composition. An added benefit of building from components is that I can push my creativity by playing the “what if” game, as in “what will the component look like if I do this?”. When failure occurs it is better to have lost a small amount of glass in a component compared to large amounts of sheet glass in a large composition.

Building from components requires multiple firings to complete a piece. If a piece fails or breaks then it is possible to isolate the problem in the process, analyze what went wrong, and plan for a successful outcome next time round.

A third way to mitigate risk is to start with smaller pieces before graduating to a larger scale when planning a series of work. Technical complexity increases with scale, so validate your design concepts, firing schedules, and coldworking processes on small pieces first, before scaling up.

Reducing risk is good, but so is failure. If you aren’t failing, then you aren’t trying hard enough. Another word for risk is experience. Learn from your mistakes and either avoid repeating them or figure out if they can take you off in new and creative directions. Ironically, my 20-year involvement in working with textured glass powders started from a mistake.

A Sampling of Work

The following images illustrate new directions I have taken as the result of my self imposed residencies. The answer to my “why?” question — why is most of my art about exploring textures? — is that during my previous career as a geologist I used textures to understand the origins of the rocks I was mapping. This interest in textures evolved to include everyday textural occurrences such as cracked paint surfaces or patterns in broken pavement. Textures are important because they tell stories and from these stories we learn and understand a history. So my challenge has been to document natural textures in my art glass and use color to enhance them.

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate my early explorations using kilnformed glass powders to create a crackled texture. One of the great attributes of working with powders is being able to blend colors into unique color palettes. Although I have always been attracted to the shape of a bowl, I try to reduce the “functional” aspect by nesting bowls together or adding wafers as tack-fused design elements.

Figure 1 Collection of early bowls
Figure 2 Beginning blended bowls color a nested bowl

Figures 3 and 4 show new directions I took in working with textured powders after my first self-imposed residency. My original crackled texture evolved into radiating patterns of controlled lines and rounded “pebbles” that appear to float in the background glass.

Figure 3 Bouquet An outdoor installation showing textures developed in my first self imposed residency
Figure 4 Clam Photo Credit John Cameron

Figures 5 and 6 represent the results of another residency during which I experimented with creating deep forms, for me one of the greatest challenges in kilnformed glass design. The textures were created with powders, with the shadowing around the patterns resulting from carefully controlled chemical reactions.

Figure 5 Tribal White Bowl from a later residency
Figure 6 Loude Bell of Neathe a deep form vessel with crackle elements

Mt Harris (Figure 7), a stylized mountain named for iconic Canadian artist Lawren Harris, represents the culmination of a managed plan for creating art glass. My first step was to make a collection of folded pieces of paper as quick representations of mountains. From that collection I chose two shapes that fit together well and seemed to capture the essence of a mountain. I continued to refine the shapes of the two folded paper pieces until I was satisfied with the look and eventually recreated them as a full-scale model made from sheets of plastic. This model was critical in helping me evaluate the piece from all perspectives.

The glass I used for this project was mainly Bullseye Opaline, a glass that strikes to translucent white. The degree to which this glass strikes is a function of heatwork. Since more than one sheet of glass was required for the project, I ran a series of tests using the planned sequence of firing schedules to verify that all the glass would fire as anticipated.

This entire managed plan gave me assurance that the piece could be created as envisioned.

Figure 7 Mt. Harris

Figures 8 through 11 show how a simple design element such as a powder wafer can evolve by repeatedly asking and answering the question “what if…”. What started off as tack-fused design elements made from stencils in the shield collection in Figure 8, became more painterly by using brush strokes in the cave art bison in Figure 9. When I explored printing with glass powders, the result was impression wafers (Figure 10). The fish form and structure was made by pressing the pattern from a hand-cut sheet of linoleum onto powder. After an initial firing, colour was added using transparent powders. Another result of asking “what if..” was using shards of powder wafers as colour fields fired onto sheets of clear glass. This modified sheet glass was then cut into shapes, assembled as large-scale strip-cut projects, and fired into large blocks resembling a cityscape (Figure 11).

Figure 8 An early collection of wafer design elements on a collection of shields
Figure 9 Cave drawing as a painting wafer on a sculpture depicting early sapiens
Figure 10 Fish from impression wafers
Figure 11 City of Enlightenment with wafers as shards of color in cast blocks

Figure 12 illustrates the results of another residency during which I explored a completely different topic — line quality. Lines are such important design elements and yet, due to technical challenges, are not commonplace in kilnformed glass. This collection of inverted bowls demonstrates precise placement of lines on each bowl, and how the patterns repeat from one bowl to another.

Figure 12 Black and white Bowls

It is earliest January 2023. I’ve got a vision. I’ve made a few tests. I’ve prepared a plan. And I’ve already made a few mistakes. But I’m like a kid with a new exercise book, fresh crayons, and a brand new eraser on the first day of school. I’m all fired up. How about you?

Editors’ Spotlight – Geoffrey Bowton

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Geoffrey Bowton is creating metaphorical glass relics, developed from within the memories of deployment and objects related to the longstanding war in the Middle East—experiences may be reclaimed through the story telling realism of Pate de Verre, understanding post-traumatic stress and the unknown. Is processing trauma connected visually with a gunshot wound, or a painful scar that reminds you of hardship or injury? Is it the red-hot barrel from gunfire, remembering the back-and-forth exchange … were you or those around you affected by an Improvised Explosive Device … can you recall the things you did … has life changed for you? “Sykes Regulars” … soldiers of the 5/20th Battalion, a group of resolute infantry personnel who deployed and fought throughout the longstanding wars in the Middle East. This work reflects the selfless service and sacrifice of those who answered the call to duty after 911, defending our liberties and freedoms for the United States.

Over the recent years, Pate de Verre and this work became a rally point in the art and veteran communities; used in social platforms discussing historical events, meanwhile, generating conversation about the significance of healing post military service. I view this work and the glass objects used as metaphorical vessels, transforming the experience of the individual in theater, and exposing the realities of combat. To reclaim oneself using art as a therapy.
I decided to arrange the soldiers gear as a Contemporary War Memorial, merging ideas from traditional military installation, with the realism of Pate de Verre casting. This work is constructed by hand building multiple layers of glass powders and small, tiny shards of which compose a thin hollowed object. Each surface has considerations made to portray wartime experiences of the 5/20th soldier.

I started working with glass during a 2016 summer studies program in Lybster, Scotland, at Northlands Creative Glass. What I discovered … a material capable of transforming within its environment, adapting, moving, shifting, bonding shards of themselves together … like the human spirit on the frontlines, amid a bloody gun fight. Glass was becoming a place where I could understand more about my feelings, while watching the material in transformation … I reconnected to parts of my life that needed healing, as if I were the glass and the heat was the medication I needed. Pate de Verre helps me survive through the processing of my memories and feelings, compiling stories of post traumatic events, mine, and others. This is a medium capable of lending its transforming qualities, deploying within the forms and the stories created—hollow vessels carefully arranged with layers of powders and small, tiny shards.
My earlier union career as a sheet metal worker and six-year stint with the US army infantry helped develop my artistic backbone, while simultaneously destroying the very life of it.

This redirected me into an altered state of employment … so, I decided to set up new creative working skills, attending an undergraduate art program, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts, using the post 911 G I Bill.After spending time at North Lands, I then established myself as a glass class student locally and abroad, taking part in over twenty-five studio classes, and or artist led class residencies. I work at my own glass/metal studio (approx. 2200 sq ft), found in Hillsboro, Oregon. Currently, I am working on the final pieces for an installation this upcoming November, Veterans Day month.

New works available for purchase: located https://www.bacart.org/ in Bainbridge, Washington. Opening reception, Friday, November 4th from 6-8pm. Please come join me in honoring those who served and sacrificed, upholding the liberty & freedoms we all depend on. Heroes’ living among us … people you may never have met, nor seen Veterans Day 2022.

Upcoming – during June 2023 (online) and during the month of National PTSD Awareness & the 2023 GAS conference in Detroit, I will be showing my work for the International competition … Not Grandma’s Glass https://www.habatat.com/ – a yearlong event. New works will be available for purchase.

Social Places:

https://www.geoffreybowton.com (website)
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001570358103 (Geoffrey Bowton) (Facebook)
https://www.instagram.com/geoffreybowton/ (geoffreybowton) (Instagram)
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq4O-0geasfPnJJZdbeNwIw/videos (Geoffrey Bowton) (YouTube)

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