Students learn to create marble masterpieces

  • Mon Apr 23rd, 2012 11:27am
  • Life

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

Robin Moore tames a molten, mercurial, glowing glob of glass.

At 3,000 degrees or more, this quarter-sized orb is the genesis of a special sphere.

When Moore is finished it will be filled with what looks like a brilliant, multicolored flower. Or a jellyfish. Or an alien. Or a backyard toy.

Moore’s making a marble.

Moore, 31, shared his expertise during a recent class at Schack Art Center. He is among the first teachers at Schack to give borosilicate classes in the center’s flame-working studio.

Borosilicate, the same glass used to make Pyrex kitchenware, works well for contemporary glass art, including marbles. It reacts well to changes in temperature and is sturdier than other glass materials.

“I can focus the flame down to a laserlike point and work on very fine details,” Moore said. “Borosilicate glass is more stable than soft glass, it is easy to maintain an even temperature and avoid thermal shocking.”

Thermal shocking results in cracks or small explosions.

Using the flame, Moore applies tiny colored dots to the clear glass, then stripes, then heat. Gently turning molten glass in front of a 4,500-degree flame, he massages the material into shape using gravity, centrifugal force, and some twisting and pulling.

Like real flowers that bloom in the heat of the sun, these modeled flowers bloom in the heat of the torch. They are completely handmade creations, created at the fingers of an expert.

“You really have to baby the colors into the glass,” Moore explained.

Colored glass tends to behave differently in the flame. It’s thicker, more viscous than clear glass.

Although graphite molds are used to smooth the marbles, 90 percent of the spherical marble shape happens in front of the torch.

Glass wants to be round, Moore said.

Schack’s hot shop tends to get a lot of attention. That’s where flame-spewing ovens are used to create large pieces of glass art. But that’s not where all the creative glasswork takes place.

Glass pieces can be made of cut pieces formed into mosaics, or plates and jewelry made using a kiln. Then there is the flame-working studio, where various types of glass are manipulated using a desktop torch.

Since Schack opened a year ago, students have made glass beads in the flame-working studio, a process that uses so-called “soft” glass. The “soft” glass becomes molten at relatively lower temperatures than borosilicate.

Only in the past few months has Schack’s flame-working studio turned up the torch to work on borosilicate, a “harder” glass.

Classes are open to anyone, regardless of experience. During a recent class, the students were a retired glass enthusiast, 65; a senior at Everett High School, 18, who had never worked with a desktop torch before; and a reporter, 43, with minimal glass experience.

Students in the flame-working studio are taught to wear safety glasses and take precautions. Then students get a chance to try to replicate Moore’s small masterpieces.

Patience and practice and more patience and more practice. Thankfully, Moore prevented this student from creating disasters.

At the end of a three-hour class, each student had created at least one marble, now a treasured piece of art.

Glass classes

Classes are held regularly at the Schack Art Center in all mediums of glass. Classes go from a few hours long to multiweek seminars.

Marble Madness, the next marble-making class, is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. June 10. Cost is $75, or $70 for Schack members.

To register, or to find out about additional classes, go to www.schack.org or call 425-259-5050.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.