History in the making
History in the making
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Glass making is both an art and a science. Steven Weinberg has always pushed the process envelope in order to create the remarkable pieces we see today. Glass is a notoriously difficult material to work with and when Weinberg started his career there wasn't much available 'off the shelf'. "Frankly, if the equipment or process or material wasn't available or hadn't been done before, we moved forward and invented it". Pioneering many of the techniques, materials, and methods that have found wider usage in many glass factories today, Weinberg continues to innovate and push his studio. While many of his methods have become industry standards over the years, the finer esoteric techniques and elaborate protocols remain closely guarded secrets and have never been duplicated. Precise control over a finicky material prone to infinite degrees of variable "mistakes" requires a feel that can only be gained from decades of experience. In fact, "precise control" is a misnomer as the artist needs to work with the glass and learn to listen to it. There are sometimes happy mistakes that lead to breakthroughs and then there are the ones that lead to heartbreak, ruining a piece that consumed many man hours.
Earlier work such as the so called "Puzzle" pieces (see our portfolio page) were outrageously difficult to pull off as the intricacies of the molding procedures were infinitely complex. Study those pieces. They are single castings, single firings ... no gluing, no fastening, no bonding of any kind. The execution of those pieces remain a technical miracle, no one but Weinberg could do it. If the proof is in the pudding than the glass is proof positive of the master's eye and the total immersion in his craft. The piece speaks in subtle ways that reveal critical details about it's progress ... but only a master, with a finely tuned sense of his own, can interpret the message and pull the strings at the right time. The final piece embodies the care, skill, and passion that went into creating it. No two pieces are ever the same and the final result is an unveiling of the decisions that shaped it along the way. It becomes a living record of the hearts and minds there embedded and speaks volumes about the years spent perfecting the craft. The studio continues to develop a new generation of master artisans under the tutelage of the old master. Quite simply, Kastal produces the finest crystal sculptural objects in existence today.
Weinberg connecting with a piece.
The sights and sounds of the studio are elemental. Blocks of raw crystal sit like gargantuan ice cubes waiting patiently for a cocktail. Resigned to the fate of brothers who have gone before, they remain unmoved, silent reflection is their existential predicament. The sudden zap of power you hear in the next room is the powering up of a kiln in the kiln room. Cycling through a custom programmed sequence of highly precise baking times the kiln is to the glass man what the oven is to the baker. Without the bake there is no bread. And we all need bread now, don't we? Baking algorithms that took years of trial and error to develop are as jealousy guarded as the bread man's recipes because they work the magic on the glass. It takes a lot of heat to melt this ice. And tools to shape it. Rows of machine parts and bores and bits of every size line the walls. No chrome plated fancies here, solid steel. Tempered, hardened, clad in gunmetal grey. And by the look of the wrenches laying about, you know there's some, ahem, large nuts in there. In fact, everything in the studio looks BIG. Giant disks and circular forms fill the space; like the monolithic grinding wheel with its tapered sluice trough thick with gravelly grit. Channeling an Egyptian sun dial it points to what looks like the center of the Universe, a point right there in the center of the grinding wheel. There's beauty in these things if you stop to look. And beautiful patterns too. Like the restraining tubes that protect the crystal in some of the polishing machines. Stare into them a few sections down if you don't believe everything you read (and you shouldn't). Nature's perfect design ... pure logarithmic spirals ... the very same spirals that shape the Nautilus and the Milky Way. A composition of "golden ratios" that many, including the ancient Greeks, believe may just hold the secret of our existence. As the day begins, the sounds start to dominate. From the gentle rhythmic lapping and humming of the water filled Rociprolaps, to the rumble of a mold agitator or the whirring of a polishing wheel, the studio roars to life sounding and feeling like a birthing room. Heavy labor pains of frantic activity resonate and echo through the large rooms, abating into lulls of artful contemplation as a squinting eye sizes up a piece; only to erupt anew as a raw slab of the finest optical crystal undergoes another form of major surgery. Raise the drill press and the noisy labor subsides, peace returns, and you're one step closer to handing out the cigars. And so it goes, this crystal birthing process, until the lights dim, the aprons are hung, and the muted tones of the studio once again fade into darkness. All is quiet now, as the studio sleeps under the watchful eyes of the immovable elephants in the room, the colossal sentries, that are the Bridgeports. Walk softly but carry a big stick they seem to say. Just another day in the life of the studio.
From molding to finishing, studio glass work is a demanding hands on process that requires extensive skill, experience, craftsmanship, and a trained eye. The quality of the finished product is the sum total of countless hours focused on the details. While machines help with the heavy lifting, much of the process, especially on smaller pieces, entails meticulous hand work. This work is hard but rewarding. The true nature of a crystal piece remains hidden until the cloudy veil that enshrouds it is slowly lifted through the long process of machine and hand finishing. Only then does the magic of the world's finest optical quality crystal reveal itself. And once again, a new piece is born.
The somber tones of the polishing machines reflect the subtle changes that slowly work on the glass to reveal the magic of optical crystal
Molten glass is captivating. Elements and minerals taken for granted as solid and unchanging, become rivers of glowing liquid in the intense thermal heat of the fully dialed kiln. Fire was a miracle to the ancients, and the Egyptians were arguably the first to use it's mysterious energy to turn sand into glass. Turning bits of rock into a smooth semi-transparent solid by trial of fire is still a magical process to behold. Staring into that first crucible must have been a divine and wondrous experience for those original pioneering alchemists, a true gift from the Gods! In the Kastal studio, frit, or small chunks of raw glass are mixed with various minerals and oxides in a molten process to formulate color. This colored glass creates translucent shades of visual interest when married to the piece. The end result is sleek and modern, but the process is wholly primal. The feeling of staring into that mysterious fire never loses it's wonder.
April 3, 2015
U.S. Congressman David Cicilline visits the Kastal studios to discuss strategic business initiatives and watch a hot pour demonstration. (it didn't amount to much)
It takes plenty of tools to create the work. While the finished pieces appear as though cut with high powered lasers and created in a clean room, the actual business of glass work is gritty and hands on. Fire, water, and power are harnessed with an array of tools to develop the intricate landscapes and subtle nuances so characteristic of the work.
The Kastal studio employs many machines that are works of art in themselves. The venerable Bridgeports are the work horses and provide a lot of heavy lifting. These vintage machines were once synonymous with manufacturing history in New England but are now seen less and less as much of the local manufacturing has moved off shore. Originally setup for work in the machining and jewelry industries these bullet proof old girls have been extensively modified by Steven Weinberg and his staff to work the glass. Each Bridgeport weighs about two tons and if you ever have to move one ... well, do yourself a favor and don't ever try to move one!
Classic machines are a mainstay in the shop and contribute to the exacting precision demanded by the job. While Kastal also utilizes modern equipment in our volume production processes, all of the studio work is done with the help of these beautiful machines, the old fashioned way, by hand.