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Experiencing Glass

Glass has been part of human civilization for thousands of years, it's usefulness and beauty is taken for granted by most of us. Until a person holds a liquid mass of molten glass on the end of a stick, one can not imagine how wonderfully alive glass can be. Like glass, live can be hard and brittle one moment and hot and flowing the next. One day I decided to experience hot molten glass for myself and on my day off traveled to Glassboro, New Jersey to the Wheaton Village Museum and Glass Factory. >From early on, paperweights have always occupied a warm spot in my heart. beautiful photographs of paperweights that graced the pages of oversized library books fascinated me for hours. Baccarat millifiori widths, faceted and glowing in the pure colors of fantasy, represented for me the epitome of artistic human endeavor. I arrived about ten in the morning and reported to the office manager to announce my arrival and to pay the $40.00 fee. The required reservation allows only one person to enter the furnace area and a glass worker would help me create my own design paperweight with a minimum of professional help. I entered a huge room containing five large ovens for the melted glass. The heat from the furnace warmed my face from where I was standing on the circular balcony thirty feet from the glowing furnaces. I felt nervous now that my earlier adventurous mood had given way to the anxiety of handling molten glass at two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. I met the glass worker, named Mike, who would guide me through the process. A fifteen minute lecture on the names and the proper use of the tools of the trade preceded a short lesson in glass handling. It was at this moment that I realized how alive molten glass feels as it tried to drip inexorably toward the floor. I thought of a moving assembly line belt that needs constant and unerring attention to avoid disaster. I placed a four-foot-long iron rod in the "glory hole" of the furnace and grabbed a dollop of red hot liquid glass, turning the rod steadily to keep the glass from dripping off the rod. The paperweight I imagined would contain a single pink day lily supported by four spear-like leaves on a base of rising bubbles. I pressed the soft glass into a mole that contained iron points to create the bubbles. A second trip to the furnace sealed the bubbles with a layer of melted glass, bringing the size to about two inches in diameter. Next I arranged the "leaves" that looked like pieces of light green lumps of glass in a circular pattern and returned the glass to the furnace for further heating. My mentor reminded me several times during this process to continue to turn the rod to preserve the round shape. A pointed iron tool came in handy for shaping and drawing out the leaves to a proper shape. I arranged the flower petals around the center and similarly drew them into a pleasing shape. Two more layers of molten glass brought the size up to three inches across, producing the oversized "jumbo" paperweight. The final step involved pressing the red hot glass to a curved wooden mold. I wanted to see the flower from all directions, not only from the top, so I flattened the top in a parabolic shape. Mike mentioned that he had never seen this shape before, but reassured me that I could determine the outcome according to my own artistic wishes. As I prepared to leave the furnace pit, twenty or so observers situated in the balcony gave me a big hand. I spent a wonderful two hours in the glass museum next door. The museum owners chose only the finest examples of glass for display. Towering slim vases, massive commemorative pieces artfully carved with beautiful images and colorful imaginings in fantastic shapes filled the fifty-foot high-ceilinged room, the hidden lighting adding to the effect. When it arrived one week later, I presented the fully annealed glass paperweight to my amazed wife. I have to give full credit to the wonderful and helpful staff at Wheaton Village. Their gift of knowledge will always be a part of an artistic creation I can call my own.

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