Glass, Globes and Glory Holes

Glassmaster Ron Seivertson, transforms fluid matter into sophisticated solid art in the form of sculptures, paperweights, vessels, vases, goblets, light fixtures, genie bottles, rondelles and bowls, each piece is unique, enhanced by swirls, dots, speckles, shards and threads of colour.

He reminds me of a Vietnam Vet-shirtless, tattooed, dripping with sweat, Cigarette in mouth, he is wearing dark glasses, a sweatband around his head, and what appears to be a bandage, but is actually a heat shield, on his right forearm. He is shouting instructions to his squad above an incessant roar emanating from two mighty furnaces. The team spirit is powerful, the tension is extreme, the adrenaline is tangible, and the heat is merciless.

I am at ‘Horizon Glassworks’ near Sayan. Arriving in the late afternoon, I am just in time to witness the closing stages of the creation of a huge glass platter known as a ‘rondelle’. American-born Ron Seivertson typically spends eight hours a day, six days a week, blowing and sculpting glass at his studio. The furnace is on all day every day, “We’re burning fuel all the time – two large bottles of gas per day – so we don’t want to waste it!”

Sculpting glass is not a common practice, it isn’t easy to work with; molten glass is very elusive and it normally takes years of practice, diligence, discipline and dedication to even come close to mastering the material. Furthermore, it isn’t easy to melt glass either; it requires tools and special equipment, which is very costly to build, and on top of all that it is exceedingly expensive to run and maintain. Glass is an everyday thing, but people are still amazed at how it is made. A very definite order takes place in the sculpture of this medium, “Everything is pre-planned and orchestrated,” process, and with the help of his artisan team of five, the glassmaster gathers and winds some hot molten glass onto the tip of a long iron pontil rod. He must be careful to judge the correct amount.

Using the age-old implements of his trade, and continually maintaining the temperature of the piece in the blast furnace known as the ‘glory hole’, Ron blows, stretches, pulls, twists, rolls, presses, coaxes, moulds and manipulates the hot malleable material to yield a globe, until he is ready to transfer it from one blow pipe to another, known as a punty. This is the most crucial point in the procedure, and the team’s joint sense of timing must be honed to a fine edge, if a piece is going to fail this is when it is most likely to happen.

Using tiny droplets of water to cool the glass sufficiently to break it off, the transfer to the punty takes place, enabling Ron to work on the other end. What was the coldest part of the piece is now the hottest part and, using a torch, Ron’s assistant has to maintain the heat on the other end. The technique is immediate. Ron only gets one chance to make the right move, so there is a very small margins of error, nothing can be corrected, and the tension builds as the finishing stages approach.

The globe has taken on the form of a bowl, which is then opened up and flattened in the mouth of the furnace. Finally, like a fire-fighter or a nuclear scientist, one of Ron’s assistants dons protective headgear and huge oven gloves, and the giant rondelle – the biggest that the team has ever made – is transferred to a cooling oven, where it will remain for 30 hours. If the cooling process is too fast, the glass will crack. It has taken 70 minutes to produce the finished piece – a long time for a such acute concentration!

Glass is a powerful vehicle for self expression, it is a magical substance, caught somewhere in time between a solid and a liquid, but it is also a very demanding substance, requiring both confidence and abundant respect. Ron’s story is different to that of most glass sculptors. He discovered his talent late in life, after walking away from a successful career in real estate and construction. “I wanted to do something that meant more to me.”

Already an artist, working with pencil, charcoal and paint, he admits, “I approached hot glass as an incredibly passionate na├»ve person who wanted to create.” Ron set up his own intensive course at the Seattle Glass Blowing Studio, hiring two instructors for one month, and after just two weeks he managed to create something that most newcomers could never have achieved. His mentor was glass maestro Aaron Tate, who cautioned him, “Listen, you have to understand this right now, this medium is like no other medium in the world; the most beautiful art you are ever going to make will hit the floor. You will be pushing your talents to the limit, so don’t get emotionally attached to a piece of work because it will break your heart.”

Ron moved to Bali and some time later, in April 2005, he opened Horizon Glass Studio. He is so proud of his team. “We’re a family.” None of his staff, including Wayan, his second-in-command, had any previous experience in working with glass, he recalls, “Two of the guys who now work on the floor with me, used to be my security staff, yet they have the natural creative aptitude of the Balinese. I hand selected them and trained them from zero. Everyone’s talent developed and within just a few months I realised I had a great team. “He continues, “In glass making, there are nuances in temperature, and what I teach my staff is the comprehension of these nuances; how to reheat the glass and work it in certain places at certain times. Just one centimeter can be crucial and we teach this by demonstration, intuition and an almost invisible language that you can either understand or you can’t. All of that takes time and the experience of failure.”

Ron concludes, “Glass has taken a hold of me, the fact that I’m able to do it at all is pretty phenomenal and I feel very privileged that I have such a gift.”

Story by Rachel Love