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.