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Home > A Bead's Life

Mingo loves blowing glass! Something abundantly clear to see from this photo taken just before starting out to do several bead pulls from a sizeable globule of molten glass - as you shall soon see. His only wish is that you experience the same spontaneous joy every time you look upon the wonders that stem from his furnace. A person just has to know that some truly lovely artful creations will emerge from this joyous soul! So how much is a bead worth?

Some of the tools of the trade include these five essential ingredients for glass blowing.

  1. The crystal glass furnace
  2. The "glory hole"
  3. The glass annealer or "Lear"
  4. The marver table
  5. The blow pipes

 

Aside from the essentials for glass blowing other workstations and tools are required as well. There are various forming and cutting tools. Some look like giant tweezers and pliers, others called "diamond" shears are used for cutting strands of molten yet cooling glass. Also there are variety of unassuming yet impressive molds and forming tools, some, surprisingly enough, are wooden. The molds add to the array of forming tools available and help manipulate the molten glass to form the various shapes a glass artist might desire.

 

One work station looks like a park bench with a protective screen for the thighs, legs, and feet. The bench features rails to rotate the blowpipe upon. (See figure 11)

The annealing chamber or "Lear" (see figure 1) as it is called is basically a large well insulated chest that can slowly increase or lower the temperature of objects placed inside.  The chest is necessary to protect the glass objects and the prevent breakage from the stress rapid temperature changes cause.

 

Figure 1
Annealing Chamber - a.k.a. "Lear"

A "Glory Hole" (see figure 2) is a blast furnace used by glass blowers to maintain the temperature of the piece that they are working on. It is a blown oxygenated propane flame that is very hot and noisy. Quite like looking at the sun from a distance but up close, while still very bright, is strangely beautiful. Standing up close it is not unlike what one might imagine at the business end of an idling rocket engine – only a little safer. The Glory Hole can also be used to melt smaller pieces of glass that are used in small quantities (i.e. the colored glass used for beads) or to "warm up" a larger work in progress. 

Figure 2
A "Glory Hole" Furnace

The glass artist will insert the work in progress through the hole. Then they will hold the piece in the extreme temperatures for the specific time periods necessary to achieve an exacting result necessary to provide the desired amount of workability required for the glass object under construction. A Truly challenging prospect when one considers that no two pieces are exactly the same or created under exactly the same conditions every time. Each piece has forever differing requirements. One of the many skills glass blowers must master and one that surely distinguishes art from science.

The furnace (see figure 3) holds larger quantities of crystal glass. This furnace once fired, remains fired up at all times while molten glass is present inside. It is also a blast furnace but this one has a door and is used to melt larger quantities of crystal glass. This furnace is also very hot and noisy. The raw crystal glass is like exceptionally fine white sand when cold and seen

 

in the bags it ships in. The sand is then placed in a crucible inside the furnace which surrounds the crucible with a blown oxygenated propane flame that swirls ferociously around the crucible. The amount of energy required to melt the crystal glass is quite significant. After heating, the fine white sand becomes the molten crystal clear glass. Molten like smooth lava, heavy like sand but very sticky, and demonstrating a temperature related viscosity that a person can see. The glass artist works the edge between liquid and solid where mental images magically transform into physical reality.

The series of photos (see figures 4 & 5) shows the molten glass from the crystal furnace being applied to the end of the "Blow Pipe". The blow pipe is a device used by glass blowers

Figure 3
Crystal Glass Furnace

to create an air pocket inside the molten glass as well as a tool to balance the molten globule of glass with. (Note the word "balance"!) In this case the air pocket formed is used to create the hole in the center of the glass beads. If you look carefully (see figure 3) you can see the blow pipes resting on a stand next to the furnace on the right side. Their ends are suspended in another furnace to warm them up before use.

Figure 4
Blow Pipe Preparation

Figure 5
Molten Glass Rings the End of the Blow Pipe

The application of molten glass to the end of the Blow Pipe allows the glass blower to start the process. The liquid crystal glass being applied to the working end of the blow pipe will become the "glue" used to attach other warm but still solid glass piece to the end of the blow pipe. The warmed glass has been resting inside the annealing chamber to prepare it for use. Once the starter piece of white colored glass is attached (see figure 6) to the blow pipe and melted in the glory hole it is worked towards center and further prepared for upcoming excitement.

Anyone who has purchased or seen the beads created by Mingo and Asho knows that in most cases, but not all, the center of the bead is white. Here you can clearly see that Mingo has attached a piece of white glass on to the blow pipe. After that attachment is complete the glass is heated up to its liquid state in the glory hole pictured above. Keep in mind that in all these photos the glass you are looking at is molten or liquid glass! The blow pipe must be in nearly constant rotation once the process begins until it ends. From the moment the first globule of glass has been melted onto the end of the blow pipe the balancing act begins. This work is definitely not for the faint of heart yet the rewards come in the beautiful works of art that each and every bead is become. So how much is a bead worth?

Figure 6
Starter Piece Attached

Once the glass has been heated to its liquid state and worked for perfect centering, the glass is dipped into the liquid crystal glass from the furnace. Asho helps by handling the furnace door for Mingo and also protects him with a heat shield while the furnace door is opened. The excess glass picked up from the dip is allowed to run off into the bucket shown. (Note: the bucket is filled with water)

Next Mingo sets the piece down at his work area; the park bench with rails. Tools are located at his right hand. Cherry wood forms in the pan of water next to him, pliers, big tweezers, paddles, and such. (See figures 7, 8, 9 & 10) The piece is shaped using wooden molds. The cherry wood has been soaking in water so that it is essentially non-combustible. Mingo rotates the molten glass globule until his experienced eye detects perfect centering, the proper shape, and he knows the glass is ready for blowing.

Figure 7
Working the Glass

Figure 8
Adding Hot Crystal Glass

Figure 9
Centering the Hot Globule

Figure 10
Cherry Wood Form

 

 

Figure 11
Asho Ready to Blow into Pipe

 

 

When ready, Mingo directs Asho, in position to blow into the far end of the blow pipe (see figure 11) to blow as hard or soft as needed to accomplish his ends. The air pocket created inside the piece must be just the right size in order to produce a hole that becomes the center in every bead. Too much and the hole is huge, too little and the hole is too small or non-existent. This is truly an art that requires knowledge, experience, and intuition in order to get it just right. There is no peeking inside to see how much air is inside, this is a masterful mix of pure intuition and experiential knowledge, art once again fuels the manifestation of beauty.

Several of the next steps in the process of preparing the glass for their bead pulls is proprietary and is left out of this writing for obvious reasons. Much of that has to do with the manner in which the various colors used are prepared and applied to the molten glass globule that is to become the exquisite beads Mingo and Asho are world famous for producing. Should suffice to say that the piece is blown, dipped in the crystal several times, worked on the marver table and looks like the photos below before the colors are added and worked into the piece.

Figure 12
The Inner Bead
A White Center Coated on Molten Crystal
Notice the Red Glow?

Figure 13
Molten Glass Ready for Color

 

A "marver table" is essentially a large steel plate (see figure 12& 13 - table in part) that is very clean and smooth. The table is located fairly close to the glory hole and is used to work the molten glass as it is heated, shaped, cools, and is reheated. On occasion, Mingo will ask for the blow pipe to be capped which prevents the expanding air inside the piece, filling the space that is to become the bead hole, from escaping while the piece is worked. On other occasions, he will request Asho to continue blowing into the blow pipe while he works with the molten globule of glass. He does this as necessary to maintain just the perfect amount of space for the little bead holes to properly form in all the little beads.

The colors are being applied and worked into the piece. (See figure 14& 15)  Some sparkles and/or some dichroic glass may be added to the molten globule. At this point the vessel is like a thick walled bottle but it's about to get all stretched out of shape. (See figure 17) A person can nearly appreciate what is happening. The glowing globule of glass dangling from the blow pipe is not unlike a molten womb about to birth a thousand beautiful baby beads; each and every one just as unique as their creators. (See figure 18) Finally, everything is ready, it has taken nearly fifty minutes, the final dip into the crystal glass, a little cooling time and the moment is almost upon us.

Figure 14
Adding Dichroic & Sparkles

Figure 15
Working the Colors

Figure 16
Baby Beads Maturing

Figure 17
Color Ready

Figure 19
Cooling Down After the Final Plunge

Figure 18
The Final Dip in Crystal Glass

Looking on as the bead's womb cools one cannot help but be facinated. The molten bead womb begs to be looked at with awe and wonder. What will the beads look like? What color will they be? Searching the glass (see figures 20 & 21) it is not possible to see what colors are going to emerge. Having seen the beads it seems impossible that this molten mass will yield anything useful much less any color. Yet Mingo is already visualizing the unfurling cane, Asho too has seen it in her mind. Amazing that some of the most beautiful creations are about to emerge from this primal glob of molten sand.

Figure 20
Strangely Beautiful Mature Baby Beads

Figure 21
Ready to Pull

Figure 22
Delicate Start to the Cane Pull
(See the Glowing Red of the Molten Glass?)

Figure 23
Waiting for Glass to
Cool for the Cane Pull

Mingo and Asho are very much focused upon working together now; their minds synchronize and they act as one. Starting the bead pull Mingo first holds the globule over a bucket of water. He waits until a doorknob sized dollop forms near the free end of the molten globule when he dips the knob like dollop into the water. Asho guides him down and up so the dollop cools but the mass of the globule never enters the water. After the doorknob sized dollop has cooled enough Mingo grabs the end with the diamond shears just ahead of the cooler knob and begins to gently ease the bead tail out. A bead cane starts to form looking very much like a molten rope. Asho starts cooling the pull with cooling blasts of compressed air. Then, just when everything is right, Asho takes the shears from Mingo, (see figures 22 & 23) Mingo places the blow pipe in a special jig, and Asho pulls the bead cane with pull rate and force that Mingo directs.  (See figures 24 & 25)

Figure 24
The Cane Pull

Figure 25
Molten Glass Rope

Figure 26
Colors Start to Emerge
End of This Pull - Cutting the Cane

The pull continues until the glass has cooled down too much to continue pulling. Mingo cuts the bead cane (see figure 26) from the cooling but still molten glass globule. The two of them, Mingo and Asho then set the bead cane down into a wooden trough, Asho takes the remaining globule from Mingo and starts to reheat it in the glory hole while Mingo cuts the cane into workable sized pieces, (see figures 27 & 28) picks up the bead cane pieces and places them in the glass annealing chamber. They then repeat that process three or four times until nearly all the glass has been removed from the blow pipe. 

Amazing, truly it is. One of the more astonishing aspects is that nobody knows exactly what the beads will end up looking like until the very end after the cane has cooled sufficiently for the colors in the glass to emerge. Just as astonishing is the fact that these two artists have learned over the years how to very nearly reproduce the various "in demand" colors and sizes needed for their bead inventory. 

Figure 27
Cutting Cane into Useable Pieces
(Notice it is Green & Yellow?)

Figure 28
Notice the "Diamond Shears" in Shadow

While Mingo is truly the artist with the glass, Asho is the artist with the colors, shapes, sizes, and uses for all of them. The two of them working in harmony generate awesome creations that will pleasure the generations. So, how much is a bead worth?

 

Figure 29
Bead Cane Stock

 

 

Figure 31
Bead Cane Stock

 

 

Figure 30
Bead Cane Stock
(Note: Rods of of Colored Glass
used for Coloring)

Figure 32
Mingo & Asho At a Bead Show

Finally, fire polishing is an art in and of itself. Mingo has established a proprietary method for accomplishing the task. All that can be said is that the beads, once cut, are heated back up to that liquid state and then allowed to cool back down. The process requires this be done twice, once for each end of the bead where it has been cut from the cane. Believe when we say that this is a demanding chore but the same love, joy, and just plain enthusiasm goes into the making of each and every bead. Next time you look at the beads Mingo and Asho offer you will be looking at them with a new found appreciation for just how much Mingo & Asho put into each and every bead they sell. So next time you stop by to purchase one or more of their wonderful beads perhaps you can tell them just exactly how much a bead is worth. Now don't you think they're crazy selling them as inexpensively as they do?