Last week, Wesley Fleming’s “Flameworking Natural Forms” class examined the Rakow Research Library’s collection of design drawings to see how historical glass designers worked out their ideas.
Artists and designers often use design or procedural drawings to capture and communicate their ideas. Sketching an imagined piece helps determine its shape and decoration and also offers the opportunity to experiment with technical and structural challenges on paper first.
Fleming’s goals for the class were: understanding heat control with the glass; use of various tools, application of sculpting techniques; and determining the steps for firing birds, fish, insects, and other animals.
However, he set a larger assignment/project for his students. He asked them to move beyond single figural pieces, into assemblage. Using a higher skill set, he helped them think through a complex idea and take the time to develop it.
I watched him demonstrate making a salamander at the torch. He not only showed how to construct the piece, he also talked about working out in advance each step needed to make the piece. For example, the salamander’s legs must be added in a certain order; otherwise part of the body may be in the way of the flame (Solution: add “nubs” that attach to the body while the bulk of glass is still hot; go back and add the thin, delicate legs to the nub so the torch flame will not shock and crack the larger piece.)
How do the Library’s design drawings contribute to this process?
The students spent two hours in the library comparing different types of design drawings by a variety of creators.
1) The Blaschkas captured meticulous details of plants and sea creatures to prepare for their scientific models in glass.
2) La Farge sketched a romantic still life for a stained glass window.
3) Alice Gouvy and Lillian Palmié from Tiffany Furnaces created large watercolor renderings of wildflowers—dandelions, thistles, and violets—that hung on the wall in the Tiffany enameling department [you can still see the tack holes in the paper]. These drawings inspired their stained glass lamps and enameled objects.
In comparison, sometimes simplicity is used to convey ideas:
4) Czech designer František Vízner used graphite (pencil lead) rubbings to convey shape and texture.
5) The energetic, sinuous brushstrokes of brilliant color suggests [expresses the idea of] Chihuly’s CMoG’s “Erbium Chandelier.”
Throughout the week, individual students returned to the library to work on their own projects. Some examined Blaschka drawings more closely or checked the internet for images of apple blossoms.
Their completed assemblages ranged from a fantastical version of a Blaschka model, to a Venus flytrap, to birds in a marsh scene, to a magnified wheat plant with ants.
Allison Duncan, a student in Fleming’s class, described her experience.
Having the opportunity to combine the resources of the library with the technical expertise of such a skilled teacher was very inspirational. Looking at original design drawings from historic and contemporary glass demonstrated many approaches to thinking through a complex glass piece. By incorporating this part of the library’s collection, Wesley was able to teach something bigger than a technique. We, as students, were able to see the benefit of foresight and planning in design – and gave us something for which to strive. I think that it allowed us all to think bigger, and accomplish more complexity in our work.