The techniques required for glassmaking have barely changed over the five-thousand years that glass has been made. During the Middle Ages, the Venetian island of Morano was the epicentre of the world’s glassmaking. It was a secretive business, and those revealing the clandestine techniques to the outside world were punishable by death.
Today, however, Evan, Erin and Nick have made an exception and I’m welcomed in rather than threatened.
And initially Glasscycle is very welcoming. The tour begins in an air-conditioned office with shelves stocked full of all the studio’s produce. Paper weights containing bubbles and coloured spirals, a kaleidoscopic variety of tumblers and textured glass flowers blooming out of intricate vases. It’s cool and calm.
But that changes when you step inside the studio and see where it’s all made. The first thing that hits you is the heat. There are two furnaces that are each blasting side by side - the main furnace, which rages at 1150 °C; and the aptly named ‘Glory Hole’, which is kept at 1050 °C. The main furnace takes a week to heat up, a week to cool down and turns off just once a year. A few fans in the ceiling and a stand-alone fan beside them is all that keeps the heat at bay – with little success. Rusted iron blocks and frames are scattered all around. The studio looks like a fine place to film the next Mad Max.
Evan arrived in Soneva Fushi’s Glasscycle Studio after working with glass in Santa Barbara, California. At the time he received his introduction to glass, seventeen years ago, he was studying neuroscience at college. Today, he’s in charge of a glassworks studio that transforms recycled glass into both practical and decorative works of art. There are only three studios in the world that operate like this one.
I watch as a molten orange orb is wrapped around a blowing iron and laid on the metal frame. As life is breathed into the soon-to-be jar, the glass expands like a balloon, becomes translucent and shimmers like the scales of a fish. Glass is wholly recyclable and efforts by this small team contribute dramatically to Soneva Fushi’s policy of sustainability. 80% of all materials that arrive on the island will remain on the island in some form or another.
Today, the team are working on an order of twenty-five ornately designed jars that will soon have pride of place in Soneva Fushi’s forthcoming restaurant experience, Colours of the Garden. The jars are of a unique design and intend to be uniform. That’s easier said than done, however, as every movement is reflected in the glass - the precise positions of the atoms and molecules will vary. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two glasses are the same.
As Erin explains more to me she excuses herself, picks up the jacks (big tweezers) and pushes them into the blazing oven. As Evan takes the molten glass from the Glory Hole, he sits down amongst an iron frame that’s used to balance the blowing iron with the glass on the end. Evan sculpts the glass with the jacks, Erin rolls the blow pipe back and forth and Nick blows in at the other end. It’s a serious team effort.
Their reputation as original, ethical and highly skilled glassmakers has inspired glass artists from around the world to join them. Lino Tagliapietra, Clifford Rainey, Flavie Audi and Howard Bentre, to name just a few. The artist stays for a few weeks, encouraged to source their materials from what’s available on the island and then sells the work produced during their stay at an island exhibition.
One sculpture, in particular, grabs me. It’s a glass bust of a man created by Martin Janecky, as delicately and intricately created as Rodin’s brass. However, whereas Rodin’s brass sculptures are made from molten bronze poured into casts, Janecky’s piece has been made from a single bubble of molten glass, pinched and pulled at for hours into the shape it now rests.
As I return to the furnace to make my goodbyes, Evan takes off his kevlar sleeves. I see that he’s sporting a nice burn on his inner forearm.
“Glass?” I ask. With the amount of potential for accident around them, day in and day out, I’m pleased (and surprised) that Evan’s small burn is the only visible damage I can see on any of them.
Evan shakes his head and laughs, “That’s coral, man.”