Library Of Congress Cast Glass Doors Update

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The Washington Glass Studio created shop drawings for each cast glass panel based on the original sculpture forms from the US Library of Congress Adams Building.
Sean Hennessey and Marie Schneggenburger

The Library of Congress had earlier this year commissioned sculptured glass doors as the famed institution provides much needed upgrades to the entry of the historic building. As mentioned in earlier postings, the Washington Glass Studio has been creating the artwork panels, collaborating with artists and artisans across the United States, from theatrical set designers to pioneers of the American Studio Glass Movement to make artwork worthy of an icon of the United States.

Washington Glass Studio’s Sean Hennessey works with Marie Schneggenburger and Erin Cumbo to take molds from the original bronze doors. After protection to all adjacent surfaces was in place, each the door bronze sculptures were cleaned and prepped for the mold taking process.

Marie Schneggenburger cleans and masks off the original bronze door sculptures.

The original moldings were sprayed with the silicone rubber matrix. The process took place in the summer of 2012, when the East Coast of the US experienced record high temperatures, and some modifications to the silicone process took place, with a step where we brushed on the material to ensure capture of the intricate detail from the originals. The crew started early each morning, to try and minimize their time in the sweltered sun.

The doors are ready for the mold matrix.
Sean Hennessey applies the silicone rubber with what looks like a prop from the movie “Ghostbusters”.

For a short flickr video of the mold-taking process at the Library of Congress doors – click on the arrow below:


After the molds and their “mother mold” material are removed from the doors, they are brought back to the studio for evaluation.

Tahmurath – the Persian hero – had some of the most complex undercuts that required additional molds of the deepest sections.
Detail from Tahmurath bronze sculpture.

The next step of the glass casting process involves one of the early fused glass pioneers – Ray Ahlgren. Ray Ahlgren’s Fireart Glass Studio in Portland, Oregon developed specialized techniques for the final firing of the cast and laminated panels.

Ray Ahlgren

Ray Ahlgren has been working with glass for over 40 years. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Ceramics from the University of Wisconsin and a Master’s Degree in Fine Art in glass at the Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to starting Fireart Glass in 1980 he co-founded Bullseye Glass Company. In the early 1970’s the early Bullseye Glass Company made glasses for the stained glass trade. Founders Dan Schwoerer, Ray Ahlgren and Boyce Lundstrom worked on the problems that arose when melting this type of glass together in a kiln.

Ray Ahlgren and Dan Schwoerer in 1973.

That’s when they discovered incompatibility. To be successful, they then had to figure out how to test for it and get rid of it. The product they eventually developed was a glass that would be compatible with other glasses and withstand multiple firings without cracking during the cooling process. Kilnformed glass moved forward and developed glass into a leading sculpture medium. We were fortunate to be able to include Ray’s expertise and insight into the technical aspects, as well as his meticulous craftsmanship.

Using the silicone rubber molds, Ray made wax figures that were set as per the original mold, correcting any imperfections.

Tahmurath wax original is set up and dam for plaster is built around.

Plaster is then poured around the wax sculptures, and carefully brushed into voids to eliminate air pockets.

Ray Ahlgren details the plaster across the wax as Erwin Timmers looks on.
Ray fills the dam and levels the casting block.

After the plaster sets, the wax is removed from the casting mold, creating the void where the glass blanks will be melted into.

Inside the kilns, glass was fired into the plaster molds.
Cast glass panel of “Ogma“.

In November 2012, Erwin Timmers brought the Architect of the Capitol’s Library of Congress team to Fireart Glass studio to see the progress of the castings.

Ray Ahlgren removes a cast glass panel from the kiln.

Ray removes the plaster and explains process to LOC’s Yvonne Gurney.
One of the cast glass panels has the plaster rinsed off for review.
WGS’ Erwin Timmers points out details to Yvonne.
The completed panels were inspected as part of the LOC review.

The Library of Congress project continues on, with site work proceeding through the winter months. Parts of the refurbishment are not cosmetic, including installation of new electronics and security into the historic building. The install of the glass panels will happen in early 2013, and we will post new photos of that process, as well as some great process shots taken at Fireart Glass Studios.

The Process: Taking a Mold From Historic Bronze Doors

With the Memorial Day Weekend here, a blog posting that touches on themes of American Art & history is in order.

Library of Congress, Washington, DC, Adams Building

The Process looks at how the Washington Glass Studio artists are recreating the original, historic bronze doors from the Library of Congress (LOC) Adams Building in kiln-cast glass. 
As mentioned in an earlier post, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) oversees this landmark building, and they sought out ways to provide up-to-date functional aspects for their structures, all while balancing the requirement for maintaining the artistic legacy of its buildings – a daunting task in an ever changing world. Their design for the LOC Adams building was to have the historic bronze entry doors (that could not be brought up to code) set in the “open” position, and install new code-compliant functional glass doors for the public access – with the glass doors designed to reference the original door sculptures. (Click HERE to jump to link post of sculpted bronze door features.) Washington Glass Studio is creating the new cast glass panels, and this edition of The Process looks at how the molds are being taken from the original doors in-situ. 

Sean Hennessey, the master caster, sets up his mold making equipment and preps the doors.

The LOC was very concerned that the mold taking process could adversely impact the patina of the bronze doors, so before any work on the doors was completed, testing of the materials and release agents were conducted on an inconspicuous section of the backside of the doors.

A section of the door backside was tested for any reaction to the materials.
The sample came off with no residue or impact to the original  bronze finish.
Given the go-ahead, Sean enjoys a day in the sun.
The bronze door area surrounding the bas-relief is masked off. 
Care is taken for the surrounding area. Sean shown here assisted by Erin Cumbo.
The layering of the silicone rubber mold material starts.
The mold is allowed to set-up until firm, and then peeled off.
“Mother Mold” material is added to give structural strength to the casting.
The finished rubber mold.

The molds will later be used to create the original forms for the kiln-casting process – more about the glass casting process in later postings!.