Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’s model of Ulactis muscosa, also known as a sand anemone, is quite photogenic. A large-scale photo of the model is featured on the entrance wall to the exhibition Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Glass Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, welcoming visitors in to see the glass models. It was Ulactis muscosa’s prominent place in the exhibition that led Museum flameworker Vincent Desparrois to investigate this particular sea creature. That and, from a design standpoint, Vince thought he could easily deconstruct the specimen for visitors in his flameworking demonstrations.
In studying Ulactis, Vince discovered that the Blaschkas used a sort of assembly-line process for creating the different elements of their models. “They would make many individual components and later assemble them as a finished model,” he explained, “Such was the case for the Ulactis muscosa.” By using this process, the Blaschkas could create a sizable inventory of pieces from which they could choose the best allowing them quality control over their work. “Remember, to them it was not about making a perfect glass piece from beginning to end all in one go, it was more an effort of patience and perfection.”
During his investigation, Vince discovered that his research on the Blaschkas was running parallel to his attempts to deconstruct and recreate Ulactis muscosa. “When I’m trying to make something new, no matter if it’s a project like this or something like a dog or a dolphin, I often keep all the earlier attempts in a box so I can compare my progress with earlier versions,” he explained. “So naturally, I was keeping each of the tiny pieces of my Ulactis muscosa in empty Altoids tins. I later discovered that the Blaschkas had done the same thing in their time, but with empty matchboxes. When I realized that I was essentially following in their footsteps, it made the whole project that much more personal and enjoyable.”
Vince has been working with glass for eight years and was most surprised by how much detail Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka were able to achieve using tools that are quite antiquated by today’s standards. For example, he uses a flameworking torch that runs on gas and oxygen and keeps a consistent temperature. The Blaschkas, on the other hand, used a lampworking bench that included a torch that ran on alcohol and oxygen that was pumped through a series of cones, tubes, and pipes via a foot lever operated by the Blaschkas themselves (watch a video of the bench in action). “The key to good flameworking is a steady hand,” Vince said. “I can only imagine the level of concentration and determination it would take to keep a steady hand while stamping on a lever every other second just to make the fire hot enough to melt the glass.”
The process of investigating Ulactis muscosa has inspired Vince to include non-glass components into his work. “I have been consumed with trying to make a perfect glass piece within the confines of my current skillset, but this process has made me reconsider my approach to glass work from conception to conclusion and I can see the growth of my skills because of it.”
Hear from flameworkers Eric Goldschmidt and Caitlyn Hyde as they share their research on the Blaschkas in previous posts in this series.
Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Glass Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka is on view at The Corning Museum of Glass through January 8, 2017. Learn more about the exhibition.