American Craft Magazine Features Washington Glass School

American Craft magazine June/July 2013

The American Craft Council(ACC) is a national, nonprofit educational organization founded with a mission to promote understanding and appreciation of contemporary American craft. Their programs include the bimonthly magazine, American Craft, annual juried shows, various workshops, seminars and conferences, and more.

The June/July 2013 issue of American Craft Magazine showcases the cast glass work being made for the U.S. Library of Congress Adams Building. Julie K. Hanus – American Craft’s senior editor and Perry A. Price  -  the ACC’s director of education had come to the school in April and made a report on the process and the artists involved. 

From the magazine: The original doors were designed in 1939 by Lee Lawrie, the sculptor whose Atlas graces Rockefeller Center. They’re massive bronze works, depicting 13 mythological and historical figures of language and learning. Over time, they had begun to fail, straining at the hinges, and didn’t meet modern building codes. Rather than altering the historic doors to address these issues, the Architect of the Capitol made a bold decision; in addition to conserving the Lawrie doors, they would reinterpret these unique Adams Building features in glass.

Jeff Wallin and Ray Ahlgren of Fireart Glass in Portland, OR casting the glass panels. Photo by Charlie Lieberman

Review of each of the LOC cast glass panels with the Architect of the Capitol. L-R Paul Zimmerman/HITT Contracting, William Warmus/Art critic, Tim Tate, Michael Janis, Kevin Hildebrand/AOC, Erwin Timmers.

The doors began installation in the spring of 2013 and the entry areas began to transform.

From the interior of East facing building lobby.
The exterior of the first set of six pairs of doors.

The magazine will be on the stands soon – and is online right now! – Click HERE to jump to the American Craft Council website.

Washington Glass Studio team L-R Tim Tate, Sean Hennessey, Michael Janis, Audrey Wilson, Erwin Timmers

Architect of the Capitol Blogs On New Cast Glass Doors

The AOC inspects the cast glass interpretation of the ‘Cadmus sculpture maded from the original bronze doors of the Library of Congress.

Cadmus was credited by the ancient Greeks with introducing the original Alphabet or Phoenician alphabet.

The US Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is responsible to the United States Congress and the Supreme Court for the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of 17.4 million square feet of buildings and more than 460 acres of land throughout Capitol Hill. The AOC also provides professional expertise on the preservation of architectural and artistic elements entrusted to its care, and provides recommendations concerning design, construction and maintenance of the facilities and grounds.
The AOC blogs about the new cast glass doors for the Library of Congress, now being installed. 

The original doors, designed by noted American artist, Lee Lawrie in 1938, feature high-relief sculptures of (mythical and real) world figures that have contributed to the written word and communication.

Click HERE to jump to the US AOC blog post.

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!.

US Library of Congress’ New Cast Sculptural Glass Doors

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Aerial view of US Capitol on the Mall, Washington, DC. Library of Congress is center bottom of photo.

The Washington Glass Studio (WGS) has started the creation of the new cast sculptural glass doors for the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, DC. The design of the project started in 2004, when the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) first asked WGS about advise on their initial proposal to replace the original historic bronze doors of the LOC Adams Building, as the doors required security and changes to be code-compliant. The AOC also sought to reference the artistic heritage of the original doors in this important United States building.

One of the original bronze door pairs by sculptor Lee Lawrie

The original (11′-0″H) bronze doors had functional issues and will be retained in their present hold-open position, recessed into architectural niches. The 16 sculpted bronze doors feature high-relief sculptures by American artist Lee Lawrie, whose best known work is the architectural sculpture on and around New York’s Rockefeller Center. Lawrie’s bronze doors were designed to commemorate the history of the written word, depicting gods of writing as well as real-life Native American Sequoyah. 

Lee Lawrie,  1877-1963,  American sculptor, best known for his architectural work at NY’s Rockefeller Center, especially for the free-standing “Atlas” sculpture.
Ogma and Sequoyah, sculpted bronze figures by Lee Lawrie. Door detail, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, DC.
The original bronze figures depict:

The new door design incorporates cast glass panels mounted within a bronze framework,  incorporating current egress and security requirements. The kilnformed sculptural glass will be made from molds taken off the original door sculptures. Using clear Bullseye glass to cast, the sculpted glass panels will then be laminated to tempered glass for safety. The new glass doors will create a contemporary luminosity to the building entrances, while keeping the character of the historic landmark structure.

original bronze doors - east side  (top)
Design of new bronze and cast glass doors – west side (bottom)

The scale of the project has prompted a collaboration between Washington Glass Studio and Fireart Glass Studio in Portland, OR. The project “dream-team” includes (Bullseye Glass co-founder) Ray Ahlgren, Erwin Timmers, Michael Janis, Tim Tate and Sean Hennessey. 
Master mold caster, Sean Hennessey, has started the project, creating the molds from the existing bronze doors in-situ. Some photos of that process will be posted later.