THE FLAME GREW BRIGHTER
By Brian Kerkvliet, Copyright 1995
At the 25th anniversary of the Glass Art Society conference held in Asheville North Carolina, this past May (13-14 1995), there was a great enthusiasm for flameworking and beads. It is this refreshing energetic enthusiasm that I want to talk about! It seemed to envelop nearly every conversation to some extent, with Issues ranging from anesthetics and inspiration to health, safety and the need to have good information out there. There was networking between scientific and artistic flameworkers as well as galleries and flameworkers, with positive outlooks for more showings of flamework in the future. A lecture given by Dudley Giberson: "Ancient Glass Bead Making Technologies (1500 BC) Reflected in a Modern Bead Maker's Furnace", explored old glass forming technologies in relation to technologies available today. Dudley shared his dream insights on how he thought beads and core vessels could have been crafted, as well as ways that he is exploring to create them today. There was a lot of action and excitement around the numerous flameworking workshops and demonstrations given before, during and after the conference, many of them utilizing Penland's new lampworking facility. The conference was well-rounded, with the addition of a slide show put together by Shane Fero and Robert Mickelsen entitled, "Flameworking: A World Wide Overview". They put forth a noble effort by soliciting slides from over 75 artists in 15 countries and coordinating them into a multi-media web illustrating the flameworkers of today. These connections in time will lead to a better understanding of what sculpting glass in a torch is all about, and how it has come to captivate more and more people.
During the discussion group, "Flameworking - the Red Haired Cousin of the Glass Movement", it seemed the main issues discussed were those of critical health and safety as well as annealing practices. There was concern expressed for the quality of instruction given by teachers who have, themselves learned the skill less than six months ago. This phenomenon seems unique to the "bead zone". In other glass disciplines, it usually takes instructors years to feel confident enough to teach. Many of the people who have been flameworking for 10 years or more, believe some of the "new" instructors haven't given adequate information to their students in regards to these important topics. GAS members discussed how we can, (as concerned members), help facilitate getting "good " information out there. One suggestion was that safety data sheets be compiled, and reviewed by several folks who know their stuff. These sheets would be made available to anyone who wants them. Some of the topics included proper studio set up, eye protection, ventilation, and annealing practices. A committee was formed to gather this information and accomplish the task of distribution . Another idea was to create a list of accomplished teachers. This would be available to eager students who wanted to be sure to get correct information on these topics in addition to learning how to work with the glass.
Is there any real way for you to determine if your safety glasses are adequately protecting you? This seemed to come up again and again, so a few folks got together and tried to come up with a way to solve the dilemma. There is some new eye protection on the market which is good for us, but how do we know which provide the best protection for the type of flameworking we are doing? To the best of our knowledge, no data sheets, compiled by an unbiased source comparing the different glasses to one another in actual working situations, exist. Conducting tests to observe these differences are being considered, and in time, maybe, we will get the facts gathered so people can have access to them!
All of these ideas, when completed, will be available as fact sheets and teachers lists, through the Rakow Library at the Corning Museum of Glass, Glass Art Society or by sending a S.A.S.E. to Bandhu Dunham, who is facilitating the compilation of these fact sheets.
Bead Critique at Penland
Penland Day was the grand opening of the schools new glass facility. Mary Roddy coordinated a show of beads at Penland during the studio opening. Roddy, a long-time patron and bead enthusiast, organized several exhibits in and around the conference area, including, Spirit Square and the Charlotte/Douglas international airport. These exhibits included works from over 35 of this countries prominent bead makers. She invited: Paul Stankard, a renowned flameworker and premiere floral paperweight maker, Susanne Frantz, curator of the 20th century glass collection at the Corning Museum of Glass, and Henry Halem, long time glass artist, instructor and author of the recent acclaimed book GLASS NOTES: a reference for the glass artist . In a free-form discussion group, they gave a general review and their interpretation of contemporary beads within the glass art movement.
Stankard stated that contemporary glass bead making is in its infancy He said many of the beads didn't have to be beads, and perhaps they were better as small sculptures or paperweights. The final presentation is as important as the bead in carrying the artists' statement. If they are going to be respected as beads, they should be designed to be worn, either as a necklace or a small, unencumbered piece. He said perhaps If beads had fewer elements and were better crafted with more attention to detail, they might read better than a piece all filled up with" fru-fru". He stated that, people shouldn't settle for caricatures when realism is possible; they must strive for perfection. Halem urged people to be true to themselves first, and chart their own path as an artist , before expecting their beads to be gauged as art. Time will tell if a bead is a piece of art or not. Frantz said contemporary bead makers should look more to historical beads and learn from what has gone before. She urged people to master, and surpass the historical references. She also expressed concern that many beads are too commercial and cartoonish in nature, which could cause them to lose credibility within the art world. She extended an invitation to bead makers to submit slides to the New Glass Review, an annual publication that tracks the path of art glass in our time.
Over all, this event opened peoples eyes as to what can be done within a bead format, and provided a forum for discussion of many of these topics in a supportive atmosphere. It will take time, but In this way, maybe bead makers will make their mark as micro-glass artists, gaining the respect of the contemporary art glass critics and collectors alike.
Many beadmakers at the conference had their eyes opened to the wide scope of possibilities available through flameworking. I feel a new era about to be born for flameworkers. In order to keep up with the ever-expanding need for new information and creative stimulus, my column will shift its focus from strictly beads, to lampworking in general and try to explore those topics that have a commonality in both worlds.
I was informed that the slide show, "Flameworking: A World Wide Overview", is an ongoing effort and will strive to keep up with an ever-increasing diversity and proliferation of flameworking as art. If anyone would like to have work included in this show, send slides to Robert Mickelson. Or if you had work in the show and want to send new work, that would also be acceptable. There are opportunities to show these slides many times a year to good audiences, so let's show them what we've got!
Next years GAS conference will be held in Boston, June 6-9, 1996. Boston is home of the world famous Blaschka glass flowers at Harvard. If you haven't yet seen these amazing wonders in glass, this would be a good time to do it. From the looks of it, there will be an even bigger flameworking presence next year; make your plans to attend now!