#2 The U. of Wisconsin Glass Lab

Getting started, The Glass Lab, the students, description of the shop, furnace, the glass, tools and more.
I was now settled into my new life in Madison, Wisconsin. The semester was starting and I now had an assistantship, gas for my car, a room and enough money for food. It was now time to figure out what a glass studio was as well as how I was going to be an assistant to Harvey Littleton.

I drove over to the glass studio which I found out was referred to as the Glass Lab. The lab itself was a large, very large cavernous warehouse metal building off campus on Monroe Street. I remember walking into the building and met by the students that were enrolled in the program. I really don’t remember what transpired on that first day but as I recall they knew I was Littleton’s assistant. It was obvious I was the new guy in town as all the students had been there for at least a year. I introduced myself and soon found out who my classmates were. By way of introduction they were, Mike Kraatz, Dan Schwoerer, Ray Ahlgren, Bernie Marek, Audrey Handler, Donovan Boutz, Jim Clumpner, and another student who’s name I’ve forgotten. Later in the semester Bob Barber would be part of the class.

Here I was, ready to start a new life and ready to learn a new craft. The studio itself was a crude affair by today’s standards actually by any standards. The program had only been in existence for 6 years and not much had changed from those early days. There were two crude furnaces with stacked bricks for doors. The furnace was a Nick Labino design and was called a day tank. The liner was fabricated from Crystalite brick manufactured by the A. P. Green company. It was a 98% alumina block and was half the width of a standard size block and called a split. There was no glory hole. The furnace itself served as the glory hole. It was top fired with natural gas using a flame retention tip burner. It was not a very efficient burner and was quite noisy. There was no safety equipment and as far as I know there was never a problem. The exhaust hood was cobbled together from old sheet metal and to be honest I don’t think it ever worked. The shop was so big that the heat from the furnaces was never a problem anyway.

The glass we blew was manufactured by the Johns Manville Co. and was known as JM 475. It was a low borosilicate marble used by the JM Corp. for the spinning of home insulation. Nick Labino had introduced Harvey to it in 1962 at the early Toledo workshop that same year. Nick worked for the JM Corp. as a chemist and eventually became a self styled glass blower. More about Nick in a later blog. The JM 475 sufficed for our needs but it was a very stiff glass and one had to make quite a few trips back and fourth to the furnace “glory hole” in order to maintain enough heat to shape the glass. We obtained the glass from a company located in Paoli, a small town just up the road from Madison. The company was called the Paoli Clay Co. and was run by Dave Jacob’s. More about Dave in a future blog.

There were two annealers, originally designed by Nick Labino, that looked like very large mail box’s, you know the kind with a curved top and a front loading door. They were fabricated from thin tin coated sheet metal and lined with fiberfrax that was pinned to the inside of the box. The elements were pinned to the fiber and hung kind of helter skelter in the box. If you were careless you could get a shock from touching the metal box with your hand. The door opened like a mail box and when opened one would get a face-full of Fiberfrax dust. A healthy environment did not factor into the design of the studio.

Our tools consisted of, jack’s, blow pipes, punty rods, diamond shears, blocks, and paddles. The blow pipes and diamond shears were ordered from the Putsch Co. in Germany. There was no company in the U.S. or anyplace else that we knew of that manufactured glass blowers tools. Although there were shop tools they were in pretty sad shape but we didn’t know the difference. The blow pipes were usually a bit bent but we adapted. We bought our own punty rods by going to a junk yard and buying lengths of stainless rod. We made paddles and our own blocks using a hammer and curved chisel. The cherry wood for our blocks and paddles was supplied by Harvey from his farm.

There were two benches and they were pretty crude not unlike the rest of the equipment. The benches were made from angle iron and were pretty flimsy.

All in all the Madison Glass Lab with all its crudeness was an exciting place to be. Here, a bunch of young students were struggling to re-invent the wheel. That about covers what the Madison studio looked like. The photos below will give you a good idea of what it actually looked like.

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To be continued
wisconsin_67 copy Wisconsin Studio 68002Annealer by Gib. Marbles 2@0.5x
Photo by Marvin Lipofsky, Drawing by Dudley Giberson, JM475 Marbles