The discovery of ancient tools used in glassmaking offers scholars the opportunity to better understand a process or manufacturing technique. Recreating tools from antiquity furthers that understanding and can provide Museums an opportunity to share knowledge with visitors in a hands-on, engaging manner.
In preparation for the exhibition Ennion and His Legacy: Mold-Blown Glass from Ancient Rome, the Museum commissioned a series of ceramic molds recreated from ancient molds used to shape glass. As one would imagine, recreating ancient ceramic molds is no simple task. The completion of that project was left in the skilled hands of Arkport, New York-based artist Shawn Murrey.
Murrey previously worked as a facility coordinator at The Studio and built glass equipment for the Hot Glass Demos. His understanding of glass, coupled with his experience as a Technical Specialist for the Ceramics Department at Alfred University, helped him to hone his skills, making a challenging task manageable.
For Murrey, taking the plaster cast of the original molds in a way that would not cause damage proved to be the biggest challenge of this unique project. He had fabricated brass and steel molds for glass blowing before, but had never actually fabricated a clay blow mold. Fortunately, he was very familiar with clay and the ceramic process and said the project, “was a fun way to learn more about the process of early Roman glass.”
Using plaster to fabricate the interior of the original molds was the first step. From there, Murrey used clay to hand-build off the plaster to give an impression of shape, patterning and the location of registering keys, used to ensure the pieces of the mold fit together properly. He carved away the clay to make the patterning more pronounced and adjusted the registering keys to ensure a locking fit.
“Working with ceramics takes time; it happens very slowly, you are waiting for things to dry and waiting for kilns to heat-up and cool-down,” said Murrey.
Also adding to the complexity of the project were variables common to working in ceramics, including formulating the right clay-body, color, porosity, drying, firing shrinkage, and resistance to thermal-shock. After completing a series of tests to establish the right working characteristics, Murrey made one version of each mold. From start to finish, the project took one month to complete.
One of the molds, and the glass made from it, is now on display in the Ennion exhibition; the others are being used in demos to explain processes used in the days of Ennion. According to Steve Gibbs, senior manager of Hot Glass Programs, they “demonstrate how molds can be used to shape blown glass in ancient times and how that ancient technology relates to contemporary glass production.”
See glassmakers recreate ancient Roman glass objects by mold-blowing in this video, filmed in 2014 at the Roman-style wood-fired furnace in Villa Borg, Germany, which was created especially for researching Roman glassworking techniques.
There are only 2 weeks left to see Ennion and His Legacy: Mold-Blown Glass from Ancient Rome, the largest exhibition to date devoted to ancient mold-blown glass. Visit before the exhibition closes on January 4, 2016.