Glassblowing with Eric Davy, Funerary Glass Artist in Toronto

Thursday 23rd of June 2015, Dumpdiggers watched Eric Davy Funerary Glass Artist make a custom glass funeral urn in the glassblowers’ studio at the base of the Mississauga Living Arts Center while researching an article for Digital Journal, on how cheaper cremation services increases demand for funerary glass, which hypothesizes that art glass consumption is rising in Ontario and all across Canada because cremation costs are falling and people have more money to properly honour their dead.

The funeral industry is in flux, and custom glass urns made specifically to contain cremated ashes are an increasingly popular alternative to buying a remote cemetery plots as a final resting place for deceased family members.

Hot glass artists are thriving in conditions brought about by innovative funeral service directories and the growth of online companies like Basic Funerals with cremation services which dramatically cut costs and impart a willingness on family members to do more to honour their dead relative.

Not only do bereaved families have extra money in their pockets, I reckon they also feel a greater obligation to commission something to commemorate a great life lived, and a make some form of lasting monument to the person they wish to remember.

This is Good News for Glassblowers Making Funerary Glass in Ontario 

Eric Davy started with a hot glass bud on a pipe that he got from a nearby kilm.  He got this colour block – a bullet of hot glass that’s pure white in colour that will be blown up to become the white inner coating of the from a small kiln at the side of the studio.

A piece begins when the glass blower reaches inside the furnace and into
the crucible that is filled with clear, melted glass and “gathers” a
layer of molten glass on the end of a steel blow pipe.

The glass blowing studio is a very hot place to work – there are two furnaces active and two furnaces waiting to be charged with glass and propane on the other side of the room. At peak operation, all four pieces of equipment could be red hot and making the blowers sweat, even in the wintertime.

Eric rolls the gather on the marver – the steel table that has been swept clean expressly for this purpose.

Eric keeps the piece hot and malleable by subjecting the glass to very hot temperatures inside the “Glory Hole” which is where the glassblower shapes his or her work.
The glass is then heated in the glory hole – all the while the artist is turning the blow pipe and keeping it in constant motion. I imagine this is much like honey on a honey-dripper stick, except much less viscous.

Anyway skipping along its safe to say there are a great many trips back and forth from the steel marver to the Glory Hole because the glass needs to be kept above 1000⁰ F. and Eric knows approximately how much glass he needs to get on the pipe, and what shape the blob needs to be in before he can begin colouring the glass.

Adding colour to art glass, Eric selects blue and red base colours and instructs his assistant Alex to lay out the glass powder on the marver table.  She spreads two rows of colour, red and blue, one right above the other.
 


Various forms of colored glass powders, frits and bars are used to create varied patterns and designs in the piece. Once the piece has been formed into a diamond shaped cone to Eric’s satisfaction, he rolls the red hot glass on the pipe over the color, picking up pieces with each roll.


And then again he walks back to the Glory Hole where the colored glass is heated to melt into the clear glass. Again, Eric keeps turning the pipe to keep up the constant motion and keep the symmetry of the glass shape as the colour powder melts.
 
Eric sits and rests the pipe on the steel “arms” of the bench and turns
it with one hand. With the other hand the artist uses tools such as
cherry wood blocks, wet newspaper, wooden paddles and tools made of
stainless steel.

This process requires Eric to have perfect coordination between right and left hands. The artist may be shaping a round piece, an oval, or intend to make a wide open plate or bowl.  In this case Eric is making a funeral urn and sitting at the bench is where Eric determines how to make the glass blob assume the shape in he desires in his mind. The process of heating and turning the blob in the Glory Hole and shaping at the bench will be repeated many times.

Applying Gold Foil to the Funeral Urn For Decoration

One of Eric Davy’s signature colouring rituals is to roll the red hot glass in gold foil which of course melts into the surface and imparts a fantastic finish in the blown piece. Alex Wilson lays out gold foil in a special cabinet and Eric Davy rolls the glass on 4 inch strips of foil on both sides.

 
Blowing into the Pipe – once the piece has been coloured, the actual glass blowing begins.

It
starts with a puff on the end of the blow pipe to create a bubble. Then
it’s back to the Glory Hole for more heating and turning. And back to
the bench for more shaping. This cycle gets repeated many times,
depending on the size and shape desired by the artist. Already Eric can see the gold foil has melted and new wonderful colours are manifesting on the surface of the bubble.

Transferring the Project to the Punty. Once the glass bubble shape is satisfactory, the piece has to be transferred to a “punty” – another steel pipe that’s been heating over flames. Alex Wilson takes the punty and affixes a small ‘gather’ of clear glass from the furnace.
As Eric Davy stops turning the piece, Alex attaches the hot punty with the molten glass to the other end of the piece

Moving the piece from the blow pipe to the punty will make it possible for Eric to create the opening of the funeral urn. The punty will be attached to what will become the bottom of the piece.

At exactly the right moment, Eric “raps” the blow pipe and it breaks away, leaving the piece attached to the Punty. This is a tricky step in the process Eric warns, and although he makes it look easy, sometimes this transfer results in the molten glass bubble tumbling off the rod and the pipe and smushing on the floor.

Eric uses giant scissors to open up urn. The interior of the urn is a creamy white which is the colour block that
was shaped into a bullet in the Glory Hole before the first gather at
the very beginning of the process.

Eric returns to the bench and uses a variety of tools to create the mouth of a vase or to open up a vessel. He will use the heat in the Glory Hole to continue to make changes in the shape of the piece while using other tools at the bench.

Once Eric is satisfied with what will be the final product, it’s time to remove the piece from the punty.

Another difficult part of the birthing process, Eric once again relies on his training and years of experience to know exactly how and when and how hard to hit the punty so that the finished piece drops to a soft landing on a towel on a nearby table.

Alex Wilson gets busy with a blow torch making the bottom of the urn – erasing the pontil mark and accentuating the kick-up so the urn sits perfectly flat on its circular base. Next the item is placed hot into the annealer.

The annealer is an oven that keeps pipes and punties hot, and can be used to slowly cool down Eric’s finished work to avoid cracking and any breakage that can happen as the different coloured glass cools at different rates. This is especially true when making Memory Glass with a foreign substance like bone ashes as Fuel Ghoul : Science of Making Memory Glass reports on Typepad.

Alex Wilson, Eric’s assistant  artist picks up the scorching-hot piece using Kevlar gloves,  and quickly transfers it to an annealing oven. This oven is kept at 960⁰F and then cooled down over a period of 14 hours to room temperature. This slow cooling down is to prevent the piece from cracking or breaking.

This is a picture of a finished piece that I used in my article on Digital Journal.