Saturday, March 26, 2011


Art is a universal language.  Like music, sports, cooking, horseback riding, or any other concentration you’re passionate about, it brings people together.  Those from different backgrounds, socio-economic status and ages find common ground, a reason to interact, talk and share ideas, because of art.   
It is in the interest of sharing art that I am writing this blog.  For in the end, all we have is the human experience; the riches you hold in your heart over those you hold in your hand. 
Please enjoy!
About Me
While pursuing an education in fine art at the University of South Florida, I enrolled in a beginner stained glass class at a local shop.  Immediately I was hooked, completing my project the first night rather than over the allotted four weeks. Within six months I had my first commission, within a year my first store, and a year later my husband/business partner and I opened a second store.  In the studios we sold supplies and offered classes as well as designed and fabricated commissioned art for residential and commercial installations.   Being a huge public art advocate I’ve participated in many projects donating original works of art to benefit local and regional charities.  My artwork has been on display in major cities across the country.  Always eager to meet new people and travel, I’ve presented at dozens of conferences nationally from coast to coast.  To date, I have authored thirteen design books and written numerous articles for industry publications and magazines.  Now a full time studio artist, I work from the comfort of a private studio beside my house, which is awesome because I live in a beautiful area. 
Here, I’m hard at work on my latest projects: design book 14 and a fiction novel.   The novel is a new and unexpected direction for me.  One day I realized I have a funny life and I like to tell stories.  I decided to start writing and discovered it’s just like drawing a picture, only with words instead of lines.  Like any other labor of love, it’s taking time and dedication to churn out the pages, but I’m committed.  Hopefully I’ll be sharing it here in the near future…  
Visit my web site / portfolio if you’d like to see more of my work. 

Let Your Spirit Soar   A dream commission.
“We will not hinder your artistic vision for this site.” These were some of the first words the client said in our introductory meeting at my studio more than fifteen months ago.    Can I tell you I wanted to kiss them!  Not once in 25 years has a client said that before and meant it.  The job got better from there.
In late February 2011, I saw the project come to fruition after a very long road trip of more than 1500 miles and one major installation of seven fused glass kites.  There has been so much interest in this commission I decided to share my experience in a blog.  So here it goes…

The Project Goal
The South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, NY has seen growth.  In recent years a new, modern entrance building was constructed in front of the existing structure.  The new and old buildings are connected by an innovative glass conservatory.  The striking three-stories-tall open-air space is home to inviting cafĂ© style tables, and quickly became a favorite leisure and meal time destination for hospital staff and visitors alike.  The intention of this installation is to add warmth and color to an already appealing area through the application of suspended art.  After some negotiation, it was decided that seven fused glass kites would enhance the space beautifully.        
The Design Themes
I researched the hospital, the coastal New England region and the local area history to come up with images that would have meaning and significance when installed at this specific site. 
Life is like the four seasons and to me a hospital means life.  Therefore, the first four pieces I designed are titled, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.  I chose to depict the seasons using peaceful nature scenes that residents of Long Island would find familiar.  The fifth design drawn titled, SIBS represents an outreach organization at the hospital.  The group offers much-needed help and support to children who have a sibling or parent with a serious illness.   The sixth design, titled To Your Health, symbolizes the hospital.  Pictured is a family enjoying simple pleasures with confidence knowing the hospital is there behind them.  The cupola silhouetted in the background is modeled after an architectural detail from the original building.  It’s a symbol unique to this hospital and represents the long lasting commitment to the health and well being of the community.  The cupola is still present today and can be seen sitting tall on the roof of the old building through the glass ceiling of the conservatory.  The seventh design, titled Rich History, characterizes Long Island.  Did you know that Long Island played a key role in the development of aviation?  Aircraft engines were manufactured at plants on the island and Amelia Earhart’s trans-Atlantic flight originated on Long Island.  The island was also big in agriculture, corn being a prevalent crop.  Plus, Long Island became a NYC commuter destination when train travel became available.  Hence the airplane, corn field and railroad crossing images present in the seventh design.    
Some Fun Facts
Kite dimensions: 4 foot wide, 6 foot tall, and 12 foot long tail. 
Weight: 80 pounds each.
It took 3 days to fire half a kite, 6 days per kite, 42 days for all 7, which calculate out to more than 1000 hours of kiln time!
It takes a full 24”x 48” factory sheet of fusible glass cut in half diagonally to make one of the large triangle pieces. 
The pre-fired glass is stacked three and four layers thick in some areas.
The fired glass is 3/8 inch thick.
The kites were made with System 96 fusible glass.   
More than 125 feet of steel cable was used to rig the kites. 
It took more than a week and several trips to Home Depot, to crate the kites and tails. 
The crate containing the kites weighed in at 1000 pounds!
The project took 6 months to complete. Whew!

It took 12 ½ hours to install the kites.

Design and Fabrication
The iron kite frames were made first.  Angle iron was measured, cut to size and welded together.  Clear fusible glass sheets were cut into large triangular shapes to fit inside the back of the iron framework.  Next seven full size patterns were drawn the same size as the glass blanks.  The organically shaped pieces that make up the designs were cut one at a time, by hand, from large sheets of colored glass.  The rough cut pieces were smoothed on the diamond bit of a grinder and checked against the corresponding pattern for fit.  They were then cleaned and laid out side-by-side on top of a clear base piece of glass.  The shapes fit closely, interlocking much like a puzzle.  The stacked glass was then loaded into a large kiln where it was fused. 
Fusing, in simplest terms, is melting compatible glass together to make a pattern or design. Firing is the process that occurs inside a kiln to fuse the glass.  Glass is sensitive to temperature change and therefore, must be heated and cooled slowly or breakage will result. The rate at which something will be fired is dependent upon the size of the project and the number of glass layers in the design.  Large projects are fired more slowly than small ones.  To fire the kites I wrote a very conservative, eight segment firing program, which was entered into a digital controller on my kiln.  The program is retained there and can be accessed over and over.  All of the glass was fired in the same kiln, using the same program to ensure maximum stability and consistency in the appearance of each piece.   The glass was slowly brought up to a temperature of 1450 degrees over an eighteen hour period.  Once there, it was held for several minutes until the glass temperature was uniform.  The controller then slowly brought the glass back down to room temperature over a period of 48 hours.   It took three days to fire two triangular glass pieces (one large and one small) in the kiln.  This process was repeated twice for each kite for a total of six days of kiln time, per kite.     
In the mean time work continued on the metal components.  Sixteen foot long pieces of square iron tubing were bent for the tails.  One was matched to each kite frame, numbered, drilled and fitted with through bolts.  Metal sleeves, used to hold the glass ribbons in place on the tails, were cut to size, drilled and fitted with a set screw.  All of the iron parts were sandblasted to remove dirt and oils, immediately primed to prevent rusting and then sprayed with a black satin finish. 
 The fused glass was then fitted to the frame and installed.  We lined the inside of each frame with dense, 1/8” thick foam to keep the glass from coming in contact with the metal. It also acts as a cushion to prevent glass breakage in the event that the metal frame flexed during shipment or when handled during installation.   The glass was held securely in place from the top with a smooth bead of clear silicone.    
Rigging the kites with steel cable and setting the balance was done next.   Every kite has five suspension points, one at each corner and one in the center.  Five individual wires are strung from these points of contact and joined together on a single steel ring.  The trick to successfully hanging the kites and running the cable is to make sure all five lines are tight at the same time.  This ensures that the kite will hang straight and the weight will be distributed evenly from all five points.  Tails were attached during the rigging to set the flight angle.     
Packing and Shipping         
The artistic energy and muscle power were not limited to the creation of the iron frames and fused glass; the shipping crate was a work of art in itself!  We took into account the number of kites (7), the overall dimensions (4’ x 6’) and the weight of each (80 lbs) and decided on a very unique, self-storing, kite-shaped crate design.  First we attached two pallets together with wooden beams and strategically put it where it would be picked up by the moving company.  We then built a wooden frame for each kite and lined the top edge with thick foam to cushion the art and protect the metal finish from wear during transport.  Several vertical supports were mounted to a plywood base attached to the pallets.  The wooden frames were stacked like shelves, one on top of the other, and screwed to the upright supports.  The kites were packed one at a time in the order I wanted them to be installed, working from the back of the conservatory forward.  Thick plywood was cut and attached to the outside of the vertical supports to close the box and make it stronger.     
When it came time to ship the artwork, I was shocked at how difficult it was to find a freight company willing and able to handle original art.  Most companies hung up on me when I told them the value.  Finally, I contacted the Tampa Museum of Art, knowing they must have experience moving one-of-a-kind pieces.  They were very helpful and put me in contact with a company that specializes in transporting original and estate artwork.  Their expertise was well worth the investment especially when I received confirmation that the artwork had arrived with no signs of damage and in good condition.
 “Can you move it to the left?  No, no a little to the right.  Yes, right there.  Per-rfect! 
My role during the installation was limited to consultant, intentionally.  Ladders, scaffolding, scissor lifts; been there, done that.  This was different.  I knew the kite installation in the conservatory was outside my area of expertise.  It was a HUGE undertaking and had to be done right.  Hospital administration, board members, architects, engineers, lighting consultants, electricians, construction contractors and laborers were all called on to contribute their expertise in consideration of the installation.  When it came time to actually raise the first kite the bulk of the work had been done in advance.  The site of each kite had been predetermined and specialized lighting that would illuminate them had been put in place.  On installation day the architect had a stack of drawings to be followed with detailed measurements showing every angle and elevation possible.  I felt it was my job as the artist to preserve the aesthetic; to make sure the placement of each kite was visually strong by itself, and equally as important, a cohesive part of the group.   
Installation started at the back of the conservatory with the Long Island inspired kite.  It progressed forward along the left side of the conservatory following a major support beam in the ceiling.   The kites are suspended from two points: the body and the tail.  Therefore, two individual cables had to be run for each of the seven kites.  The construction crew would go up and pre-drill the thick steel support beam in the desired location to hang a kite.  They mounted a heavy duty fastener and cut a piece of braided steel cable to length.  The specific length of each was determined by measuring the distance from the raised scissor lift platform down to the floor.  Engineers had pre-determined this distance and noted it on the schematics the architect was following.  The crew then came down, collected a kite and tail assembly, rode back up and fastened the kite to the cable.  The lift was moved, they’d go back up to drill and fasten a second cable, plug the kite tail into the sleeve in the end of kite and attach the second cable to the tail.  Each kite and tail assembly was unpacked as needed and passed up to the construction crew on the lift.   When you consider the number of trips the crew had to take up and down to measure, cut and fasten cable, plus the time it took to hang all the kites and tails, then figure in the time it took to safely move the scissor lift around, and include the physical strain of handling heavy original art, you start to understand why the installation took all day.  
When the lift came down for the last time I was euphoric.
I have to commend everyone I worked with on this project including those behind the scenes and those present on installation day for their professionalism.  The construction crew especially stands out.  They took every precaution when handling the artwork, giving it the same painstaking care at 6pm they started with at 6 am.   It was a pleasure to work with you!     
With Special Thanks
To my family, friends and those who supported and contributed to the success of this project,