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The design and execution of a glass artwork application full glass doors

Updated: Jun 20, 2019

Last spring I received a visit from the OBN and architect Patrick of Oost5, who came all the way from Nieuwleusen to Rotterdam to see my atelier. I talked a lot and a lot and a lot about my love of coloured glass and all the wonderful things you can do with it. I got all red and flustered in my enthusiasm, but fortunately my enthusiasm rubbed off and within a short time I got a commission from them.

The design of the building and location of the glass

The OBN owns an older funeral home that was ready for a drastic make-over. Patrick, the architect was very intent on bringing light into the building. He made a design with roof lights and a big glass entrance framed by copper plating. The copper will slowly turn green over the years. I always love it when buildings seem to be alive. Like in the Swedish Skogskyrkogården crematorium he planned that people would enter the building from one entrance and depart from another, symbolising the continuing of life. These exit doors needed a glass artwork with the theme ‘Tree of Life’. I was the lucky artist to design and make this artwork.

My inspiration for the design of the artwork

The Tree of Life is a great theme to start with, but I didn’t just want to make a pretty tree. I wanted something more symbolic, more meaningful. Sometimes it takes me a while to make up a design, making endless sketches and collages, both by hand as in Photoshop. Honestly, I have no one way of making a design. It generally depends on the idea I have in my head and how I can visualize it. I can sometimes be very insecure about my designs. This time, however, I had an idea pretty fast. Usually I make two or three designs and the client can pick their favourite and give some comments and adjustments. I was inspired by the sections of trees. There were piles of cut tree trunks in the park I cycle through on my way to the atelier. Some are really big and aren’t round at all with many rings and cuts in the bark. I loved the idea of seeing a life go by in those rings, and seeing events, like marriages and deaths in the cuts and the discolorations.

The Tree of Life in glass

So I made a design by using the idea of a tree section. To make the composition more dramatic I added some cuts and split part of the section off. Because the project was a bit in a hurry, I picked out the glass I wanted to use. I chose natural colours, brown, blue, green and yellow bouthblown Lamberts Glass and added a multi-coloured sheet by Wissmach in with a nice lined structure that added effect to the year lines. I played a little with painted year lines making some designs with more and others with less lines. I also made the spaces between the glass plates wider, so instead of being just seams, they became part of the story. In the end I sent my design to Evert-Jan of the OBN and they liked it, but they also wanted to see some alternatives. After some adjustments and an alternative they eventually picked out my first design.

Preparation for the glass application

First of all I needed an accurate drawing of the doors to be able to make the design an exact fit. This took a while, which made me a little stressed. Another project delaying event was that most of the glass I had ordered had gotten lost in transport! In the end everything got delivered. I had to ask for a delay, but that was no problem, there was more time before the building was going to be finished. The doors were going to be made by a company hired by the contractor of the building. This company delivered me the right drawings and guaranteed me that the hinges of the doors would be able to carry the extra weight of the glass. They also welcomed me to glue the pieces together at their location, so the doors didn’t need extra transport and they would hang them in the building after they were finished. So that left me to cut all the pieces, sandblast the uberfang glass by Lamberts Glasshutte, paint the pieces and put them in the kiln. I decided to sandblast instead of etch the glass, because I needed straight lines and I can easily sandblast myself. I must admit that I am a bit afraid of etching, because I am rather clumsy (great combination when working with glass), but I do love the effect!

Application on Location!

Although time consuming and not very cheap, I love it when my work takes me somewhere I haven’t been before. I put all my glass, the SilGel glue and many small usefull things in my car and drove to Balink Glass in Friesland to glue my project. I set myself up in a nice B&B for a couple of days and got on with gluing the doors. I took one day to prepare the doors: cleaning them and taping off the areas I was going to use. I had already put transparent foil on my pieces of glass. The next day I started the process. Fortunately everything went well, I hadn’t forgotten to take anything important with me, I just had been a little tight on calculating how much SilGel I was going to need. I was breaking out in a sweat and just as I discovered I was going to make it, Evert-Jan and Theo of the OBN came for a visit. Relieved I showed them how I had to glue the last pieces and that everything was almost done. The people at Balink Glass were super nice and helpful to me. Some of their colleagues would come by and watch me work during the day. I felt a bit like a performer! The last day the glue had dried and I could clean off the excess. Job done!

The Tree of Life glass artwork is finished

As I left Friesland I hoped that the doors would be installed without problems. I was very happy when, two weeks later, I received a couple of photos of the installation of the doors. It looked wonderful! Last week I went to visit to see the doors for myself. Nieuwleusen turned out to be a lovely small village outside Zwolle. The locals were very pleased with the new building, which was wonderful, and I got a lot of sweet compliments about the doors. They put a light on at night, so you can see the glass outside when it gets dark. All in all this was one of my favourite projects, because the people I worked for were so nice, I had a lot of freedom in my design and it was a true ‘contemporary glass-art in architecture’ assignment. Looking forward to more….

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