Through a Glass Darkly: Making with Glass

The second creative collaboration seminars for the Through a Glass Darkly project took place on 31st August, with a return visit for Ordered Universe team members to the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland. This time, however, it was the turn of the scientists and mediaevalists to try their hands at working with glass. We did so, with a fantastic morning of sand-casting, led by Colin Rennie and Cate Watkinson. After setting a frame in red sand, you pick a mould or model a free-style structure (we had examples from geometric shapes, to fish, a tobacco pipe, a jelly-fish, shells), dust in some colour derived from silicates (being extremely careful not to breathe them in), and then add molten glass at over 1000˚centigrade.Simple, perhaps, but not so easy in practice, and with a great deal of skill in the pouring. We had fun though – a particular moment of zen was Colin  noticing that all of the Ordered Universe team were happy and content just running the sand from the sandboxes through their fingers, taking out lumps as you do when making pastry. Something, perhaps for the staff-room! The amazing qualities of glass were on display – the heat coming off the moulds, the steam from the sand, and the shimmering colours as the liquid cooled.

The casts cooled rapidly and were taken to the kiln for 24 hours or so to cool down properly, without cracking. During the same session Colin also blew a glass sphere for Brian, to create, eventually, a reading stone – of the sort that were used in the medieval period. Some of the results below (with a real jelly-fish – we didn’t cast that one).

The day continued with an in-depth exploration of other facilities at the Glass Centre: glass-cutting, computer modelling, and 3D printing. These were led by Colin and Angela Thwaites, an experienced glass artist and PhD student at the NGC and illustrated too the projects that both are developing in response to Ordered Universe research on Grosseteste. When completed these will be spectacular: as they evolve and appear we’ll put news on the blog.

The final session of the day involved Cate Watkinson, Alan Fentiman, Inge Panneels and Alex Carr presenting their responses to the project. The range of responses was quite remarkable, and the session very productive. Seeing why and how the sculptures were taking shape, what elements of Grosseteste’s treatises had inspired the thinking, how colour, light and geometry in particular combine to provoke artistic realisation, was in itself inspirational. The session explored the nature of cold glass, as opposed to hot, light and colour in camerawork, mechanised mirrors and steps of coloured glass. We finished the day, appropriately with a viewing of an exhibition by Angela and the intricate, different word she had created in glass. With so much more to come, Through a Glass Darkly, is set to create a dazzling array of art, from the small-scale to the large, in glass and through glass on film. The project and collaboration is now well established and we all look forward to what happens next!

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