The Smartist | Bullseye Glass Co. | Bullseye Glass Co

The Smartist

Before we  dedicated actual studio space within the Bullseye factory for artist projects  (over 20 years ago), they had to happen in whatever nook or cranny was free at the time. And “the time” was almost always a weekend or a holiday.

Some of us still remember those late nights between Christmas and New Years spent on the hot shop floor with some creative Eccentric re-purposing a piece of production equipment to make Art.

Nowadays artist projects are done primarily in the department known as Research and Education, or R & E for short. The projects are primarily kilnformed and the times involved are typically lengthy.

So this weekend – a time when the factory is normally idling – was a something of a blast from the past for me.  And the opportunity to watch Howard Ben Tré think his way around our  casting shop floor, equipment and team was a treat.

In case you’ve slept your way through the last three decades of contemporary glass, Ben Tré is renowned for his monumental sculptural works in cast glass that are represented in museum collections and architectural sites around the world.

Not that I care hugely about how stuffed a CV is with museum collections. What really impresses me is a guy who can step quickly and sensitively into a factory culture. Especially if the factory isn’t designed for a divo.

On that count I was impressed with Ben Tré (second from left below).

First of all, he came prepared. With molds that were well considered and arrived on time (so I heard).  The communication in lead-up to the project had been thorough and timely. No small thing, but one that is frequently not an artist’s strong suit.

But I didn’t personally witness any of that; I’d only heard snippets over the prior few weeks. When I stepped onto the floor on Saturday morning, all of that was history. The Now was a guy whose communication with our factory team was one of leadership without dictatorship.

Ben Tré was a pleasure to watch. He understood enough of working in a factory – he’s worked at others from the East Coast to the Czech Republic – to know what to watch for and who to talk to. How to assess material and process. How to work in a new environment and how to improvise when necessary.

The hot ladling was done by Howard’s guy, Eric (at the furnace in the shot below), and our guy Greg (next up to bat), with multiple pours required per mold. Production manager Sam seemed to enjoy being on the sidelines of his shop for a change.

I think that most of all I liked watching the timing evolve, seeing a team working on a new project, coming together so quickly in developing a remarkably efficient process.

While Greg made the final pour into the steel-jacketed mold…

….silver-suited Tom prepared to receive the prior mold that had just been topped off and covered.

Bryan (transferring the mold above), whose former life includes a stint on Chihuly’s crew, was way savvier than I was when it came to understanding “photo opps”. My inability to be in the right place at the right time explains why so many of these images are out of sequence….

Take my word for it, I’m no Russell Johnson….but the action was dramatic.

After each ladle, the “heel” – the molten glass left clinging to the bowl – was dumped into the water filled cooling barrel, while the next caster gathered another ladle from the furnace. The rhythm between pours took on a kind of mesmerizing choreography.

The only thing more mesmerizing – for me at least – was the view of the molten glass still “on fire”underwater in the cooling barrel. Doesn’t matter that I’ve seen this stuff for decades. It still stops me in my tracks.

Dan and Sam are slightly more jaded. But seemed to enjoy the event nonetheless.

To reiterate, Bullseye is a factory designed primarily to make sheet glass. Hot casting out of our furnaces isn’t routine, so it can mean having to move molds filled with 2000F glass from one floor to another. Once filled, the molds needed to get to the annealing oven – which just happened to be in another building, a half floor elevation lower than the hot shop.

…all in a morning’s work….

…back onto the cart, the still-hot molds are delivered to the closest large kiln – next door.

….this is the stationary annealer we call “Bertil” as it was built for a guy of the same name years ago for another project.

By the end of the morning’s session the crew had packed the Bertil with 42 molds. (This shot is midway through the project)

Without a hitch – but we’ll know for sure in two weeks when we open the kiln. For now, it was just a nice way to spend Saturday morning. Good glass, great team, and most of all, the presence of a Smart Artist who was a joy to have at Bullseye this weekend.

Oh yeah, and the donuts were yummy.

4 Responses to The Smartist

  1. Catharine says:

    What an amazing experience it obviously was to have witnessed such syncopated brilliance. Thank you for sharing it with us, Lani.

  2. Twin says:

    Oh it brings back such memories of casting with Bertil at the Tacoma Museum of Glass. This was such a treat to witness the whole process and WOW ! 42 pieces. You must have to anneal quite a bit longer for a full kiln like that. Incredible and inspirational. Thankyou sooo much for sharing this Lani! I look so forward to the end of the story. !!! and a pic or two as well. Like I said , I am so inspired.

  3. Linda says:

    Wow! That looks amazing! Hot glass at its best. Can we see the end results?

  4. Twin says:

    How did the firing go. I have been on pins and needles ever since this great story was first posted by you Lani ! I hope it all went as well as it looks.
    P.S. do we get a peak at one of the finished tubes. ! and oh yes, and was it all cast in the same color

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