Lesson Learned (October 1)


Annealing glass and life: Reflecting on 9/11 (part 3)

Annealing: heat (metal or glass) and allow it to cool slowly, in order to remove internal stresses and toughen it.

Here is a Lesson Learned in three parts. This week I present part three. This is about “annealing,” by Allia Shaver, student journalist and Greenbrier Almond, MD, community columnist, who jointly interviewed Ron Hinkle on August 2 and 4, 2022. Art mimics Life.

Greenbrier: Ron, we are so privileged to be here in your blown glass studio interviewing you even as you describe the creative process you go through to create masterpieces.

Ron (turns to Allia): Now I invite you to join the creative process as “WE” make a bud vase.  So maybe you would like to pick a color combination here?

Allia: My mom loves green.

Ron: I love green, too. My wife loves green. What I’m going to make is a pretty simple piece, it’s a free hand blown vase. That means that there is no molding. I just blow a bubble at the end of the pipe and I use my hand tools to create the vase. Sometimes one of my larger vases, more detailed pieces, can take up to two hours with the more detailed lines in them, but this will take me about 15 minutes.

Greenbrier: Araceli, My Beloved, has a large piece of glass art from you, a pretty blue or turquoise with purple in it. It is very nice. She treasured it all the days of her life.

Ron: Those take longer, I spin the pipe so it opens up like a flower. So here we go (dips pipe into the furnace). Here it looks like a gob of honey in there.

Allia: So cool! 

Greenbrier: Yes!

Ron: And it behaves like honey. Now it looks like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. 

Greenbrier: Uh oh! (laughing with Allia) That’s just how Allia orders ice cream.

Ron: So, there are so many different ways you can make this into designs. This particular one, I’m going to spin the glass on that slab of graphite until it spreads out horizontally. This little furnace is at 2400 degrees right now and it takes less than 10 seconds to fuse the colored glass and clear glass together. I rarely ever burn myself.

Greenbrier: Good reflexes.

Ron: You notice about this glass that you lose malleability very quickly, so I’ll be reheating it again and again.

Greenbrier: As far as I got with glass was in chemistry glass when we had to bend a piece of glass just to get fluid out like a straw, very simple.

Ron: Well, you know, interestingly enough, the first glass that I ever worked was when I was 12 years old. I had a chemistry set that my mom and dad had bought me. I would bend the tubing in my chemistry set and eye droppers and things like that. That was long before I even knew there was a glass factory in Weston. It captured my interest.

Allia: It sounds like you have an amazing life working with glass. 

Ron: I do!

Greenbrier: What an amazing interview expounding on your amazing life! You allow us to see you in the creative process making a wonderful green glass vase, as well as describe the creative process you are undertaking. I want to thank you very much, Ron, for your time. 

Allia: I am truly inspired. Thank you.

Greenbrier: For 39 years I had a weekly TV program entitled “Tender Loving Care” on Channel 3, the local educational tv channel. One program most asked for repeating involved glass, too, about Imperial Glass. Now only a ghost town is the village of Imperial above Ten Mile. Have you visited there or observed how they mine the mountain above Imperial?  

Ron: I actually found a picture of Imperial where my grandfather was working the rock crusher. I guessed they mined the stone, crushed it and mined it into sand.

Greenbrier: Yes.

Ron: I’ve been to Imperial. I have seen where houses were there at one time. The steep mountain above the deep Buckhannon River valley had been terraced and there were several layers. I got a vision of what it must have been like at that time. In fact, Imperial sand was used at the Belgrade Glass Factory in Tennerton. It had a little bit of iron in it so it had a greenish tint to it. Over around Berkeley Springs was a very good quality of sand and since the discovery of West Virginia sand there, sand has been found so many other places of even a greater purity. West Virginia is truly blessed.

Greenbrier (admiring vase shaping up): In your mind’s eye, you have visualized what this vase is going to be? Isn’t this beautiful? 

Allia: Yes, oh cool!

Greenbrier: I think I’m looking at the planet Jupiter or something like the clouds of our planet’s atmosphere.

Ron: It does kind of have that Jupiter look, doesn’t it?

Greenbrier and Allia: Yes!

Ron: Wow, you know I have never done exactly that color combination before and I love it! 

Allia: Me too!

Ron: I don’t want to retire now! I want to make a million of these!  (laughing heartily) 

Allia: Yay!

Greenbrier: Is there someone coming along behind you?  Do you have a successor?

Ron: I have had several people that have worked here, have learned and then gone out on their own and that’s great. I applaud them! Some of them have been successful, some not. Unfortunately, no, no one is coming along behind me. My children don’t want anything to do with the business and that’s okay, too. I have a son who likes to write. I have a beautiful daughter-in-law that just published a novel. My son in New Zealand likes to write fantasy fiction.

(Ron continues to work) Now if I was blowing this mold, one bubble and it’s done, but when you hand shape a piece, you have to go through the steps. I am making this into a bud vase.

Greenbrier: My mother used to take bud vases to new mothers and fathers. When a baby was born she would remember the baby with flowers placed on the church altar. The love in that gift—tremendous!

Ron: Look at that! Oh man! (enjoying his work)

Allia: It’s beautiful!

Greenbrier: The Filipinos have a word—maganda—very beautiful!

Allia: Maganda!

Ron: So those greens in the piece look kind of dull, muted, but they will be the bright color that we saw in the beginning.

Greenbrier (to Allia): We are watching a true artist at work.

Allia: Yes we are! (looking at the finished piece) How long does it take to cool completely down?

Ron: It will be ready tomorrow morning. It has to go into the kiln overnight. It’s still about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit right now. Hold your hand close to it.

Allia (about 3 feet away): Oh! That’s hot!

Ron (chuckling): Yes it is!  My maker’s mark is a backward R connected to an H. (showing the mark being imprinted on the bottom of the vase)

Allia and Greenbrier: It is beautiful!

Ron: Thank you.

Allia: Is this the kiln?

Ron: Yes. Whenever you make a piece of glass it is very hot and it is very expanded. As it cools down it tries to contract and it is cooling on the outside faster than it is cooling on the inside. There is so much tension built up in that glass it will eventually self-destruct. So, to alleviate that, you heat it to a consistent temperature. The kiln will go up to 925 degrees. (As explained in a follow-up: At the end of the day, the kiln goes through a process of annealing where the temperature goes to 925 degrees for about an hour and then slowly cools down overnight.) It will cool off slowly overnight and that way the internal and external parts can contract and get smaller together. That is called annealing glass.

Allia: It sounds like you have an amazing life working with glass. 

Ron: I do!

Greenbrier: What a time of precious sharing. You allow us to see you in the creative process making a wonderful green glass vase as well as describe the creative process you are undertaking. From my heart I thank you very much, Ron, for your time. 

Allia: I am truly inspired. Thank you. 

Greenbrier: Our Lesson Learned is that annealing glass also results in annealing life. Ron creates wonderful blown glass art at the same time shaping and creating a wonderful life right here in the central Appalachian Mountains of Upshur County, West Virginia. Truly inspiring!

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