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. But 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 I accomplished by finishing them in a rock tumbler. They had a very tactile quality, and at shows I encouraged people to handle them . 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 a visual texture by 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 overlaying thin blown colored shards over each other, a technique I carried forward to my series of black beads.
All of my metal colorants had been developed on white glass. Now I wanted to see my metal colors on black beads. The metals wouldn’t color black glass in the same way, so there were a number of problems to solve. I used tissue thin shards that were almost 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. Each bead was different, and the process was largely uncontrollable.
The 15 year period that I made beads was in the heyday of the “art vs. craft” debate. I thought a lot about their value as an art form, because it seems they’re commercialized more than almost any other craft. But a tiny object with a hole is a universally human creation. The earliest known “beads” are over 40,000 years old, and every known culture has made them, perhaps to wear as protective amulets or a way to harness the power of an animal or natural force. By making beads I felt I was wading into an ancient cultural river. There’s an intimacy to beads that few other objects possess, and they have 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 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.