‘New Dawn’: The women’s suffrage artwork for Parliament, part 2/3 – Making the glasswork

Glass is one of those
things that inspires more cliches than you can imagine. It’s has a life of its own. It’s true, it does. Basically
glass won’t do all the time what you want it to do,
it’s hynoptic, because it’s fluid and plastic,
and yet it immediately goes from
butter to toffee to cardboard to stone, and
becomes rigid. You have to treat it really
carefully. So when Mary came to talk
about the project in September, she unfolded the whole
concept that she had for her ‘New Dawn’ sculpture,
and she showed me some of the research she’d been
doing into women’s suffrage, particularly the images of
the scrolls in the Act Room, which I found really fascinating. Those images really resonated with
me. We started talking about how we could actually bring those into the
sculpture. The glass-blowing process
starts off by taking a piece of solid rod colour,
cutting it, and placing it into a kiln, and bringing
it up to 525 degrees. So these are powdered glass colours. I’m just laying this out
on a steel table. This is actually quite
enjoyable and therapeutic, it’s a little bit like painting. You’ve got to bear in mind
that although these colours look a certain way,
some of them are opals, and some of them are
transparent, so they won’t actually turn out quite the same way as they look on the finished piece. Then you pre-heat a blowing
iron, and pick that piece of colour up, and re-heat
it in the glory hole so that it becomes fluid. Then you roll it on a steel table to
chill the outside, and introduce
air by blowing down the iron. There’s a set-up here that really hasn’t changed very much for 2000
years. A Roman glass-maker
would probably recognise what you see on this bench. At that stage, you then shape it, and as it cools down sufficiently, you gather another layer of clear
glass over the surface, and
take it back to the bench. Cool it on the outside
with a wooden block, shape it with a pad
of wet newspaper by hand, and start to inflate it. To make a larger piece,
you then get another gather of clear glass, and go
through that stage again. The next stage is to blow
the bubble up and shape it. You then cover it with silver
leaf, which is easier said than done, because the glass at this
stage is somewhere around about 500
degrees. Once you’ve done that,
you re-heat that again and roll it in the powdered glass
colours that are laid out on the steel table. Re-heat again to melt those
colours into the surface, and ask your assistant to
bring you a punty iron, or finishing iron, and join
that punty iron onto the base, and chill the neck, tap the
iron, and it should transfer from the blowing iron
onto the finishing iron. At this stage, you have to think about opening it out
into the required shape. You gradually open up the rim. Get the piece very very hot, and start spinning it out into a
plate. It’s dead simple when you know how. So that’s the end of the process. Now we’ve only got another 167
to make. I’ve never glass-blown
before, I have to say. I’ve seen it and of
course, a good glass-blower makes it look really easy. Having a go yourself makes you
realise it’s not easy at all. I want to have something which
inspires 14-year-old girls when they walk round Parliament,
and they see all these men, and all these statues, and they think where’s my place in this. I want them to know
that they have a place. -The whole movement and the whole
idea of Parliament slowly getting in
behind, it’s too slow but we’re getting
there, and today was a great encouragement. I think it’s spectacular enough
to make quite a difference, and people are really going
to come and see it and ask. That’s what we want. Oh, it’s very important,
because history’s made of memories, and that’s
why I think, to mark it in the House of Commons particularly, given the enormous journey we’ve made over such a short distance… ..I’m glad that we’re doing this,
and it will be beautiful, as a piece of art,
but also meaningful because it commemorates
something important.

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