Photo courtesy Flickr
I’ll never look at an empty peanut butter jar quite the same. Last week the in-house archaeologist and I spent a day in the hot shop at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. If you want to spend a few hours watching a tight team of experts play basketball with a fifty pound blob of napalm on a small floor snaked with hoses and surrounded by pits of hell, this is the place to go.
The crew was supporting a glass artist who had won a week in the hot shop. They were working on a large project that was taking hours to execute, so I had a chance to observe and experience the working conditions necessary to produce the large pieces of glass art that all too often evoke not much when I cruise through the galleries.
I can look at a painting and have a notion of how it was produced. Likewise, woodworking is no particular mystery, nor even pottery or iron work. Glass is another matter: trade secrets were closely held, and the technology is new to the Northwest’s abundant energy.
Technique alone holds no charm for me. My favorite work at TMOG is still the Kids Make Glass collection, in which young ‘uns compose and the masters execute. The gallery hall has the easy joy of child’s play and early rhythm and blues. Really, who could want more?
Photo courtesy Flickr
Nonetheless, I was happy to stumble across a day in the glass theater when the story of a major piece was being played out before our eyes. The project was not a success: after six hours’ work, a critical move failed, and the body of the figure that was being constructed shattered in a second. On the bus on the way home, Indiana mentioned that projectile points being fashioned out of obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass, can fail the same way. Sometimes an impact resonating along their length causes them to self-destruct. He mentioned that the tribespeople used to temper various stones with heat to improve their working qualities for producing projectile points, and that construction of the high West Seattle bridge in the Seventies had unearthed points knapped out of rum bottles. I also learned that glass burns have unique qualities that chem majors discover while making custom lab gear. I learned enough to decide not to learn any more. I’ll stick to roux burns when the gumbo pot is out.
I suspect the hot shop crew have found the cure for ADD: I could not blink or tear my eyes away from their process. Sit next to a boiling radiator and boot up the live feed for a sample of the real thing.