Cast glass waka
above:cast glass canoe
by Shona Firman,
New Zealand

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Cast glass

Cast Glass: from the Glass Encyclopedia and Glass Museum
featuring the cast glass of Shona Firman

Cast Glass: A short explanation
The techniques for making Cast Glass involve creating a paste from powdered glass and colouring agents and filling a fire-proof mould with this paste then firing it in a furnace to melt the glass.

The technique was known in ancient Rome and Egypt, but in the art nouveau period (very early 1900s) it was called Pate de Verre and developed to a very high artistic level by such French artists as Gabriel Argy-Rousseau, Henry and Jean Cros, Albert Dammouse, Francois Decorchemont, Amalric Walter, Emile Galle and Georges Despret. These artists put the coloured glass paste into the mould using a paint brush or similar tool, first filling the sections which would eventually stand out in relief. The background of different colours was then added to a thickness of several millimetres and the centre of the mould filled in some way to prevent the paste from slumping. Argy-Rousseau filled the centre with powdered asbestos. For both cast glass and pate de verre, the filled mould is fired to melt the glass paste and fuse it into a single piece, and then allowed to cool very slowly to anneal the glass.

Some of today's glass artists incorporate computer controls and thermocouples (for measuring high temperatures) in the mould itself, giving them very precise control over the heating and cooling of the glass to avoid damage during the process. These techniques were first developed for making cast glass lenses and mirrors for huge telescopes. When the glass has cooled the mould is removed either by pulling apart the separate pieces or by lifting out the glass object (only possible with certain shapes) or by destroying the mould to release the glass. Further work on the glass, such as polishing or engraving or decorating is then undertaken.

Making cast glass is a slow process requiring a large amount of skilled craftswork. Experience and knowledge is needed to avoid bubbles, cloudiness, and cracking during annealing (cooling). Many cast glass sculptures are solid and quite large. Even a small piece 10cm thick can take a month of carefully controlled cooling to ensure it does not crack, and at 20cm thickness the time required to cool safely will be about four months. It was not until after the 2nd World War that techniques were developed for making very large sculptures using cast glass. Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova were the leaders in this development, but their work in communist Czechoslovakia was not widely disseminated in the West until the Czech Republic was set up and greater freedom allowed. Methods of working with cast glass were also developed in the USA, notably by Howard Ben Tre, in the UK by Colin Reid and others, and in New Zealand by Ann Robinson. Today cast glass is some of the most magnificent and skilfull glass produced.

It has been said that New Zealand has developed its own "Silicon Valley" of cast glass artists. Led originally by Ann Robinson who has been casting glass since the early 1980s, there are a growing number of glass artists in New Zealand who specialise in Cast Glass. Shona Firman, whose symbolic tribal canoe is shown above left; Emma Cambden, Greg Smith, and many others have acheived international recognition and awards for their work. One reason for the success of these cast glass artists has been the work of Gaffer Glass in New Zealand, in preparing and supplying suitable glass for casting. Further down this page you will find the story of Shona Firman and examples of her beautiful cast glass.

If you are looking for cast glass, it is worth searching under different names. Pate de Verre, for instance, or the major producers of cast glass such as Daum or Galle. These links will take you to some of the current listings on ebay.
- click here for Pate-de-verre glass - click here for Daum glass - click here for Galle glass - click here for Cast glass

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References and Further Reading (click on picture)

Sand Cast Chinese 2014 Kiln-Formed Glass 2014 Kiln Cast Glass 2013 Knitted Glass 2013 Knitted Glass 2008 Techniques of Kiln Formed Glass 1997 Glass Casting 1989 History of Glassforming 2002 Beginners Kilnwork 2012 Rousseau glass book Daum glass book

Shona Firman Cast Glass

Shona Firman casting glass
Above: Shona Firman releasing a blue cast glass sculpture from its mold material.

Cast glass has become a specialism amongst glass artists in New Zealand, and Shona Firman is one of the leading teachers and artists working with cast glass in NZ. Her spiritual and symbolic pieces are stunningly beautiful. Many of Shona's vessels and sculptures are blue, since the touch-stones of ancient people were often blue, giving this colour a special significance. Her series of canoes, based on ancient New Zealand wakas, are each unique. Each one is made from a mold which is destroyed when the glass is released from it. In the picture above Shona is digging out her blue glass sculpture from the white "plaster-type" mold material. Some of Shona's vessels are three-quarters of a meter long - truly monumental sculptures in cast glass.

Art glass by Shona Firman
Above: Detail from a cast glass canoe by Shona Firman

Shona Firman was born in Whangarei, in the North of New Zealand, in 1940. She started her career as a display artist for a retail store, and in her thirties spent time sailing in the South Pacific and working as a designer and artist in Hawaii and in Canada. In the 1980s she started her own business designing, manufacturing and selling soft toys. She studied management and later attended Northland Polytechnic studying applied arts. It was here that she studied glass making under Keith Mahy's direction.

Two canoes sculpture by Shona Firman
Above: Two Canoes, a sculpture in cast glass by Shona Firman.

After graduating with merit and majoring in Glass, Shona was awarded a scholarship to attend the Pilchuck Glass School, in Seattle, USA. She was awarded a New Craft Artist Production Grant from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand, and made a study tour to Perth, in Australia. On her return she became Glass Tutor at Unitec, Auckland, and a year later in 1995 she and Keith Mahy became partners and set up the Burning Issues Glass Studio and Gallery in Whangarei.

Canoe by Shona Firman
Above: another ancient canoe vessel by Shona Firman.

Shona commented "We all paddle our own canoe through life, and its a different journey for each of us, but basically its the same canoe".

The cast glass "Jessie House" below is something completely different, a design drawn by Shona's grand-daughter Jessie, and converted by Shona into a series of incredible little sculptures.

Jessie House by Shona Firman
Above: Shona Firman's "Jessie House" designed by her grand-daughter.

Shona Firman is one of the artists featured in Angela's book about New Zealand Glass.
This book covers both extensive historical information and current glass artists in New Zealand, with some superb photography and explanatory text.

INFORMATION about New Zealand Glass !
Including many original catalog pictures and dozens of photographs.
NOW available - this is the second edition of the book and it covers the fascinating history of glass in New Zealand,
the story of Crown Crystal Glass, NZ bottles and an overview of contemporary New Zealand glass artists.
Available as a paperback or as a Kindle book.
Buy Now or take a look

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