The Innovation Center: Where Art and Science Happily Meet

I’m not a scientist, but I play one on TV (well, not on TV, but at the Corning Museum of Glass). I am an artist, working primarily in glass these days, and my job at the Museum is flameworker and technical interpreter in the Innovation Center. This job includes a lot of interesting, interlocking parts that keep me challenged and fascinated throughout each week.

Flameworking Demo in the Innovation Center with Caitlin Hyde

Flameworking Demo in the Innovation Center

I sculpt molten glass at a torch while explaining the process and techniques of Flameworking to Museum guests, so that’s the “artist” part of the job. I also present short talks about the basics of Optical Fiber technology, and demonstrate the effects of various stresses on different types of glass at the Glassbreaking Demo. That means I spend a lot of time answering questions about glass science and technology but since I’m not a scientist, it keeps me challenged. I’m often inspired to go in search of answers to questions posed by our visitors. One of the things I especially like about my job is that although I do a lot of teaching, I’m also always learning new things.

Flameworked glass animals made during demos in the CMoG Innovations Center

Flameworked glass penguin and mouse

My blog entries will be about glass art and glass science. Sometimes they will be about things I know, things I make, and other times I’ll be learning along the way and sharing my new knowledge. Join me, if you’d care to, in this interesting pursuit.

Making objects out of glass is one of my favorite things to do and each glass object begins with an idea. For Flameworking demos at the Museum, I specialize in making solid sculpted glass animals at the torch. When I’m developing a new design idea, I begin by looking at photos of the animal I’m planning to sculpt (unless there are live examples of that animal available, which is even better!). Then, I make sketches to help me plan the design and simplify the form so that it can be translated into glass. Glass flows easily into round shapes and is stretchy when molten so my designs are often based on combinations of simple round, oval and elongated forms. Like this:

Pencil sketch of hippo in preparation for flameworked glass sculpting

Once I’ve sketched my plan I begin melting and shaping some glass. I often make a few test pieces to work out the structure of the form, see how the object will balance and refine the details. After working with the glass, I might return to the drawing board, so to speak, and make more sketches as I figure out just how I want the sculpture to look and how I will accomplish the piece technically.

I often make the new glass animal as many as eight to 10 times before I’m really satisfied with the results and then I’ll begin to include it in the rotation of objects I make in public for the Flameworking Demos.

Flameworked glass hippo made during a demo at the CMoG

Flameworked glass hippo made during a demo at the CMoG

When you work with glass and especially when you want to talk to people about glass, you begin taking an interest, whether or not you’ve had one previously, in glass physics and chemistry and necessarily, in the vocabulary used to explain such things. I will be including some of the important basic (and fascinating) tidbits I come across within this blog. For instance:

That word, silicon.

We’ve all heard of silicon (or was that silica or silicone? Wait a minute, are there 3 of them!?) and we probably know it has something to do with glass. But what is it again?

I’ll take a look at silicon’s relationship to glass in my next post.

Read the next installment: That Word, Silica