Friday, September 23, 2011

Off to Portugal

This is a quick post before I fly off to Portugal. I will give a full update when I return but I must thank Jason Klein of Historical Glassworks for coming to the rescue and working on making some red glass samples. He sent me several by overnight post which are just killer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Page 32: The Final Player

I now have Saint’s “complete” red formula and I know his working technique required a furnace with 4 crucibles; so let me introduce the final player in my saga. 
Not far from my studio in Millville lives another glass blower named Rich Federici. He trained at the Wheaton factory and now runs his own hot shop in Vineland. Rich has become interested in making his own glass after taking a workshop with Peter VanderLaan. According to tradition, in order to be considered a “master” glassblower in Italy one would have known how to make glass from scratch. With a surname like Federici, Rich definitely aspires to be an Italian master! He listened eagerly to my tale and excitedly pulled out his copies of historic texts. He told me he had begun experimenting with some of his own color recipes and gave me a tour of his shop. 
Finally he stopped by an old annealer and explained how he had recently converted it to a crucible furnace to hold multiple color pots. With a twinkle in his eye he rolled back the lid to reveal a glowing furnace with 4 perfectly sized color pots. I imagined Lawrence smiling down at us. 
I would like to acknowledge the following institutions and their helpful staff who assisted me with my research: The Glencairn Museum, the Bryn Athyn Cathedral, the Rakow Library at the Corning Museum of Glass, the Archives of the National Cathedral, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, the Wheaton Library at the Museum of American Glass and the Wheaton Arts Glass Factory. I would also like to thank the following glass craftsmen who helped me understand the practical dynamics of glass chemistry by generously helping me prepare samples: Jason Kline and Daniel Read. My special thanks go out to Martha Saint Berberian, granddaughter of Lawrence Saint and her family.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Page 31: Does the Story End Here?

The story could end here, but let’s assess. Lawrence Saint went to heroic lengths to develop and document his formulas. He tried to safeguard his work for posterity by depositing it into two of the Nation’s apparently safest repositories. His collection, which he donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was nearly destroyed by a flood after being reaccessioned to the Corning Museum of Glass. His notes from the Archive of the National Cathedral were nearly thrown out several times before being transferred to the Smithsonian were they remain incomplete. In his autobiography Saint writes, “I have held nothing back.” He wanted his work to be known so it could be replicated by a future artisan if his masterpieces at the National Cathedral ever require restoration. It remains only to put the question to the test. Was it enough? Could Saint’s red actually be made by a modern craftsman from his formula and notes alone? 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Page 30: Jason Klein

Next I turned to my friend, Jason Klein, a glass blower who also shares a passion for middle ages reenactment. He graciously volunteered his time and worked with me to produce some tests. 

He melted a commercially-produced clear cullet in his furnace but he was able to come very close to the color of the medieval glass using copper red frit from Zimmerman and approximated the structure by varying his gathering technique allowing the glass to twist in on itself, and folding it multiple times. 

Medieval red (left) Jason's glass (right)

Medieval red (left) Jason's glass (right)
Although Jason was able to produce some impressive results, there is no indication that Saint, the Bryn Athyn craftsmen or their medieval counterparts produced the striated effect in this manner. Rather, Saint’s own research indicates that the medieval glass was streaky within the crucible caused by the addition of copper scales. In all probability it was not made intentionally to be streaky but was striated by nature. Saint, however, intentionally produced a streaky glass by stirring two pots together in his furnace. He even records the reluctance of his gaffer to follow his instruction to stir the pot 100 times! A discussion I had with glassblower and formulator, Peter VanderLaan, confirmed this nature of copper reds. The colloidal suspension they form would tend to create streaks within the glass. I observed another difference. The fritted glass Jason worked with achieved a full red color in his electric annealing oven, whereas both the Saint and the Bryn Athyn records indicate their reds needed a second firing in a reduction atmosphere to reach full color. Working with a skilled glassblower definitely provided the opportunity to make at least a small quantity of striated red that was a very close match to a medieval red. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Page 29: Modern Attempts

Why does any of this matter? Like the prospect facing Pitcairn in 1912, a designer in stained glass today would discover that there is no commercially-produced red glass on the market that matches the striated ruby of the middle ages. There are streaky copper-based reds produced by several factories, but when placed side by side with a medieval sample they are inadequate. What the Bryn Athyn craftsmen and Lawrence Saint achieved is absent from today’s palette. 
In my attempt to obtain a similar glass, I sent a sample of the Bryn Athyn red to the Lambert’s factory in Germany and they were unable to match it. Reviewing Lamberts’ attempts with the glassblowers I know from my association with the Wheaton factory in Millville, the verdict was that the color was accurate but the intricacy of the striated pattern was not well replicated owing to the larger size of the Lamberts’ sheets.

Lamberts' first attempt

Lamberts' second attempt

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Page 28: Two Discoveries

I made two discoveries; first, the sheets did, in fact, have accession numbers which linked them to further documentation in Corning’s archive. Secondly, the sheets were identical in appearance to the Bryn Athyn striated ruby right down to their surface markings. By studying the sheets in the Cathedral basement I had already discovered that each of the Bryn Athyn sheets bore a code inscribed with a diamond. These markings indicated the formula number and order the sheet was made on a particular day. 
For instance, 875-11 would indicate the 11th sheet made that day from formula 875. Since the ruby color would continue to strike as it was reheated, the Bryn Athyn craftsmen learned by experimentation to fire the red sheets to a temperature above the point at which the glass would be fired by the glass painters later in the window- making process; otherwise the color would continue to darken. The temperature of the second firing (typically 1180 degrees F) was also inscribed on the sheets. Apparently Saint used the same coding system he had learned at Bryn Athyn as his sheets were identically marked. 
We may never know if Saint’s formula is exactly the same as the Bryn Athyn formula, which Ariel Gunther may have taken to his grave, but I feel confident in saying that they must have been very close. At least they appear visually identical.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Page 27: The Reds at Last!

Unlike the way that his materials are organized at the Smithsonian, the Corning files contain samples of glass packaged in the same envelope as the formula. 

The Corning materials are complete and revealed many variations of the illusive red glass. 

Obviously I was very excited by this find. One of the boxes appeared to contain roundels and rectangular sheets of glass that had been individually wrapped in layers of paper towels. The receding flood waters had turned these into tightly fitted paper-mâché cocoons. From my research I was aware that the Saint factory produced all of their colors in the form of roundels with the exception of the striated reds which were made in the muff method and flattened into rectangular sheets. Tantalizingly, there were rectangular shapes in the box. Immediately I knew that I was looking at complete sheets of Saint’s red glass and I asked if they could be unwrapped. As the items did not obviously bear accession numbers, the Registrar was willing to soak them in the Conservator’s sink and the paper wrappings gradually came away. The beautiful sheets of Saint’s striated ruby glass were at last revealed. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Page 26: The Corning Collection

Corning’s collection consists of 9 large metal boxes each the size of a filing cabinet drawer. 
The first one I opened was labeled, “Lawrence Saint - Formula and Ingredients”. It contained envelopes and small bottles of chemicals. Theoretically, one could recreate Saint’s colors from these materials. Most glass makers’ recipes were closely guarded secrets, but Saint wanted his formulas to be preserved in the event that his windows needed to be restored in the future. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Page 25: The 1972 Flood

Let me say a few words about this flood. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes took an inland route, combined with a mid latitude cyclone track and stalled over western New York for 5 days. The immense volume of rain broke all former records and caused the river that flows through Corning to overflow its banks. 
courtesy CMG

courtesy CMG
The water level reached 5 feet high – on the second floor of the museum! Because of this Lawrence Saint’s materials were submerged. When the water receded the materials were dried out and put in storage but they remained unopened until the day I looked through them. 

Page 24: Return to Corning

Armed with this evidence, I decided to try my luck at Corning again. I began diplomatically, by saying, “I understand that you had a flood and that the paper records probably got ruined, but you’re the Corning Museum of Glass; surely you didn’t throw out the glass pieces, right?” 
This time I was directed to Warren Bunn, the Registrar. He said, “Well, actually in our off-site storage facility we do have some metal boxes, covered with dried mud, which are labeled Lawrence Saint and have not been opened since the flood of 1972. I’d be happy to go through them with you – since perhaps you can tell us what’s in them.” It is at this moment I realized I was the Lawrence Saint expert!

Page 23: The Saint Family Reunion

Meanwhile, during this period I had been corresponding with some of Lawrence Saint’s descendants. 

They planned a family reunion in Pennsylvania and I arranged to have them meet me in Bryn Athyn to see the Saint materials I uncovered in the Glencairn archives. Saint’s grandchildren, who are missionaries living in Guatemala accepted my invitation. I asked if they had any samples of glass and if they would they bring them to show me. 
Disappointingly, what they produced was a sample of Saint’s striated red about the size of a nickel which had been made into a heart shaped charm – given to each of the girls as a gift from Saint’s wife. 
They also showed me two roundels that came from Saint’s factory which they referred to as “formula plates”. With a diamond, each had been inscribed with a 3-digit number and the promise: “the formula for this color is in the Corning Museum of Glass”!

Page 22: The Complete Red Formula

I didn’t leave empty handed. In one of the last envelopes I found a file folder marked “Complete Red Formula”. It was about 18 pages long! What I now know is that it is not a matter of simply having the recipe but you must also know how the glass was worked by the gaffer. 
Saint’s formula required a furnace with 4 crucibles. Two of them held a mixture of “green white” – basically a clear glass with a green cast. Another contained a glass to which yellow “flowers of Sulfur” had been added and the final was a red made by the addition of “Copper scales”. The procedure was to melt these, then take the yellow, ladle it into the red and stir it 100 times. The glass blower would form his bubble from a series of small gathers, first in the clear, then in the red in a succession of 5 dips ending in clear. Stirring would ensure that the layers of red were streaky and casing with clear would prevent the color from being too dark.

Page 21: A Few Early Reds

Finally in the last box I found 4 small pieces of beautiful streaky reds, but the dates on the corresponding formulas indicated that these were early experimental reds and not Saint’s final mature formula. 

These samples were dated 1929 which is one year after Saint received his commission for the windows at the National Cathedral. Saint’s hot shop was built in 1928 and, apparently, he was already making a striated red by 1929. Compare this to the Bryn Athyn Glassworks where Raymond Pitcairn worked with Larson from 1916 to 1922 and Ariel Gunther continued to improve the formula even after that.