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fire and glass

By on March 27, 2021 in Arts with 0 Comments
Fireworks Diatom Ridge is a stunning example of the effect of using murrine, which reveal complex patterns as they stretch during the glassblowing process. Photo by Jori Delvo

When pulling glass from the fiery furnace, ‘it’s like honey on a warm summer day’

by Marlene Farrell

Stepping inside the Peshastin warehouse of Boulder Bend Glassworks, one senses how harnessing the power of heat yields such delicate beauty. 

Beyond the gallery area where dozens of pieces dazzle the eyes lies an industrial studio with equipment and tall shelves packed with supplies. Central to all that are the ovens, six in total. 

Owners and partners Craig Sorensen and Jori Delvo built this studio from the ground up, including welding and electrical work and it was “hot,” with the main oven running, in 2020. Now they can do what they love best, creating art on a daily basis.

The first oven in the creation process, the furnace, blazing at over 2,000 degrees 24 hours a day, holds the crucible of molten glass. 

Jori opens the glory hole for Craig so he can reheat the glass. They both stand behind heat shields. Photo by Kevin Farrell

To begin a new piece, the furnace door is opened and Craig, standing behind a heat shield, pulls a bright orange blob of molten glass from the crucible on the end of a blowpipe. “It’s like honey on a warm summer day,” Jori explains.

Craig carries the blowpipe over to his bench and rolls it, keeping it in constant motion on a rail. With the viscosity of honey, he can use gravity and motion to shape the cooling glass into a perfect orb.

The glass expands when Craig or Jori blow on the end of the blowpipe. Thinner glass cools faster than thicker glass, which allows it to stretch uniformly, without blowing a hole through the thinner spots.

“Heat management of the glass is difficult to see,” said Craig. “The trick is getting your heat just right, some parts hot, some parts cold, then the glass will work almost on its own.”

For a view of Craig giving a tour of their studio, see this link:

They use wooden ladles, known as blocks and made of resin-free wood like almond, cherry or the native madrone. The blocks are kept submerged in water. Steam rises when they’re used to cup and shape the glass. 

The marver — a perfectly smooth steel table they built themselves — helps control the cooling process as well. Craig will alternate these cooling methods with reheating the glass in the second oven. This oven is called the glory hole, perhaps because it’s during the many reheating steps that something undefined develops into something glorious.

Craig and Jori’s glasswork are complex, giving a sense of frozen movement. This is one of their specialties, often starting with murrine. “Murrine is a small cross section of glass, usually about a half inch in diameter, that can have intricate patterns and colors,” explains Craig. “Murrine will start as a long stick of glass that we make ourselves, and once we cut them, we place them so the cross-sectional patterns and colors will repeat.”

Nature inspires their designs. They can envision the final product’s color palette, with both soft and sharp lines and with intersections and interstices, honoring something in nature, whether astronomical or aquatic, geological or intracellular. Certainly, some of their work is reminiscent of the underwater wonders they discover while scuba diving together.

About one of her favorite pieces, Knotted Saddle #1, Jori said, “It’s inspired by knots in a tree, combined with the bends in rivers; thus, the blue colors.”

But to reach an ethereal end product, Craig and Jori must work together with instinctively choreographed movements, keeping their eyes on the glass and their tools, speaking little but understanding what needs to be done at precisely the right time.

One such step of recent teamwork is when Jori blows through the blowpipe while it’s rotating on the rail and Craig continues to shape the glass with a block and giant tweezers.

Collaboration is also required to transfer the glass from the end of the blowpipe to the end of an iron rod called the punty so that the open end can be released and finished. 

At final release of the glass, Craig gives a sharp knock on the punty, and Jori, wearing a heat-resistant jacket, Kevlar gloves and face shield, catches the glass between large Kevlar pads, and then carries it lightly, like a hot potato, to the annealing oven. 

This final resting stage for the glass allows for slow cooling over one or two days. More rapid cooling would lead to cracking or shattering under thermal stress.

Craig and Jori both bring an array of skills to bear in their work. Before art, Craig was in the military. “My enlistment was three years active duty and three years reserve, and I had an amazing duty. As a plane captain I was the lead of, and responsible for, many senior personnel. I learned that with the proper training, preparation and hard work, I can perform under pressure.”

He had the advantage of two mentors. “George Jerich’s work is creative, whimsical, and unique. He encouraged me to experiment and look for inspiration outside of the glassblowing world,” said Craig. “Then in 1996 I took a Venetian Techniques class with Bill Gudenrath, from the Corning Museum of Glass. His techniques are detailed, structured and precise.” 

Craig takes this learned skill and his own creative impulse to create pieces like Fireworks Diatom Ridge. It was inspired by fireworks seen on the first trip Craig and Jori took together, the intricate patterns of diatoms, which are skeletal remains of algae, and snow-capped mountains. 

The gestalt for Craig is, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Take a mountain, microscopic remains and firework patterns, mix it up in molten glass, and you may come up with something that will be cherished for generations.”

As for Jori, glassblowing started more recently, and she had previous careers as a CPA and a restaurant owner. “Independence, determination, hard work and adventure are all threads which connect my work and life experiences,” she said.

They’ve settled in Peshastin, drawn to mountains begging to be explored, the lively river and its byproduct, inexpensive electricity.

Jori and Craig have been together since 2005, and their comfort with each other enables them to accomplish what, for other glass artists, requires a larger team. 

Craig acknowledged this, saying, “Sometimes Jori is the gaffer, or lead, and sometimes I gaff. As long as exactly one of us is gaffing, we are ready to work. It always takes both of us to make our best work.”

To view Boulder Bend Glassworks, one can visit their studio at 8210 Highway 2 in Peshastin or their website (boulderbendglassworks.com), and they’re also showing at Ganz Klasse, Kris Kringl and Loves Me Flowers.

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