This page features my flameworked glass beads, which I made from the late 80’s until 2002. I used metal foils to create all the colors on the surface of the glass, a technique I’m still using in some of my enamel work today.
I discovered glass in 1978 while I was still working as a criminal trial lawyer. I left law practice not long after that and glass became the artistic focus of my life. In the context of my architectural stained glass business, I explored just about everything I could do with glass and heat, including slumping into molds, fusing, making and coloring my own glass in the kiln, and sandwiching metal foils between fused glass.
In the 80’s, the glass aesthetic emphasized seductiveness: intense colors, transparency, light going through it in a myriad of ways. I saw glass as more translucent and mysterious, like the agate pebbles you’d find on a beach. (Quartz is just silicon dioxide: glass in its purest form.) Occasionally there were things coming out of my kiln that had the appearance of more neutral colored stone-like materials. I wanted that. I experimented in the torch with colors derived from copper, silver and gold on the surface, and started making glass beads. Beads provided a small canvas that could let me do whole range of color and visual texture experiments in a few hours. The idea of “visual hybrid” began to emerge, something that was definitely glass but resembled other materials too.
Most of my early beads had a satin surface, which enhanced their tactile quality. I encouraged people to handle them and even the pricey “collector” beads were openly displayed in trays rather than attached to rods or locked in a case to keep them from being stolen. I wanted them to be picked up, touched, explored with fingers as well as the eyes.
When I started coloring my beads with metal foils, I worked with a neutral palette of colors and a “pebble” theme. I achieved textural results using enamels or metal oxides, and pressed the beads into various asymmetrical shapes using handmade brass molds.
Later the beads became more structured and regular in shape. As they became larger, I had more of a canvas to work on so I could explore pattern. I also began to incorporate more gold into my work.
Eventually I began making one of a kind beads on stainless steel tubing which left a large hole when the bead was completed. These took the form of large donuts and taller “vessel” forms. I also started working with transparent glass, overlaying it with thin blown shards of other colors. The various colors accepted the metal colorants very differently.
All of my metal colorants had been developed on white glass. Now I wanted to see my metal colors on black beads. How many colors could I achieve using just a base of black glass? There were a number of problems to solve. I used tissue thin shards that were transparent and invisible on the black, but accepted the metal colorants differently. This created a patchwork of neutral colors on a black background. In addition, black glass does ethereal things with silver and heat, so there were many additional colors I could achieve on it with just a few ingredients and by varying the atmosphere in the torch.
In the 15 years I made beads, I thought a lot about their value as an art form, because it seems they’re commercialized more than almost any other craft. But they’re universal. The earliest known “beads” are over 40,000 years old, and every culture has made them - tiny objects with holes, perhaps worn as protective amulets or a way to harness the power of a hunted animal. There’s an intimacy to beads that few other objects possess. Today they’re used in a more decorative way, but they still possess a strange hold on us.
I made my last flameworked beads in 2002, but I still had a lot of things left to say with this tiny medium. I finally put aside my torch to focus on photographic imagery in copper with champlevé enamels - glass in another form. I wanted a larger canvas for awhile, and I’d always wanted to bring photography into a glass medium. But I’m still drawn to the magic of coloring glass with metal foils. It gives colors and textures that cannot be achieved any other way, and that can never be completely controlled or exactly repeated. Much of what I know about glass I learned by making beads.