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Mace & Crown | April 26, 2018

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Molten Melodies

Molten Melodies

Third Thursday is a beautiful fusion of glass craft and musicianship

It’s a simple idea.

Take a beautiful guitar and cello ensemble and match it with an equally talented team of glass blowers. Put them in the same state-of-the-art glass studio and prepare for a beautiful show of craftsmanship that stimulates the senses and tugs at your feeling bones.

For the staff of the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio in Norfolk, Va., this type of show happens every “Third Thursday” of the month. In preparation for a show, staff members devise interesting ideas for demonstrations or techniques to show off and then call upon a musical guest to serenade guests live.

At the most recent “Third Thursday,” on Feb. 20, a diverse group of people from all over Norfolk forms a line into the street outside the studio by 6 p.m. in hopes of being a part of the monthly magic. This month features glass studio staff instructor Hannah Kirkpatrick and her theme, based from her own artist statement, “camera obsurca.” Robin Rogers, assistant manager at the studio, says that they usually have to turn people away.

As the crowd makes their way inside, they enjoy complimentary food and drink, while the staff and musicians gather upstairs to put the finishing touches on the night. Although they deliberate who will take care of individual parts of the show, by the finale everyone ends up helping any way that they can.

After a few more details are ironed out, it is all-hands-in with a confident cheer, then down to the “hot shop” to start the night. As the mass of artist’s make their way down to begin their performance, Charlotte Potter, the manager of the studio, officially welcomes the guests. Potter then introduces Kirkpatrick and reads the artist statement that she based the theme off of.

Kirkpatrick, and the rest of the staff, get to work, beginning the glass blowing demonstration. At the end of her main tool, a long metal rod or “blow pipe,” Kirkpatrick shapes her first gather of molten glass with nothing more than a few pieces of newspaper drenched in water to separate her hand from the several thousand degrees.

The audience watches in awe as Kirkpatrick shapes this ball of glass in to a perfect oval, then she goes back in to the burning furnace for a second layer to add to her piece. As she and the staff skillfully manipulate their element, Potter narrates the process, tools and techniques that are involved in the almost dance-like practice.

Kirkpatrick shapes for a few more minutes, followed by several more gathers of glass to give her a large bowl. She sets her first project aside, turning to transform another idle ball of molten glass in to a beautiful hourglass vessel.

The process requires the help of nearly all the staff, with the chief task being ensuring that Kirkpatrick’s pieces never became too cold to manipulate. This requires many trips to the oven, or the “glory hole.” Much skill and finesse is required of all the staff working with Kirkpatrick to ensure that her pieces are not slaved over in vain.

After Kirkpatrick’s pieces are safely in the kiln, there is a brief intermission where guests treat themselves to more refreshments provided by the museum.

After this, Potter introduces the evenings musical talent, Benjamin Hardesty and Amos Housworth, lead vocalist, guitarist and a cellist, respectively, from Hampton Roads’ very own, “The Last Bison.”

The stages back drop becomes an upright sheet of Masonite board, full of small and equally spaced holes and filling a roughly 8-foot by 20-foot space. Draped about a foot in front of the board are ultra-thin sheets of paper. The duo sits just in front of this structure, an intimate distance from the guests.

The lights go out as Hardesty begins to strum out the first chords and melody of what ends up being a captivating set of songs. Behind the structure are Kirkpatrick and staff, working their magic to create the “camera obscura” visual effects that complement the music and mesmerize the audience.

Kirkpatrick lights up her red neon fixtures and begins to move them about behind her structure. As the night goes on, different sources of light, ranging from shop lamps to candles to butane torches, are used to create unique projections and accompany the beautiful music.

As the show comes to its final hour, the pieces crafted by Kirkpatrick are brought out. First, the bowl is set on a table behind the Masonite structure, and a ladle overflowing with fresh, molten glass is poured into it. The extreme temperature of the molten glass melts the bowl, causing it to crack. Molten glass begins to seep out of the cracks and on to the table.

Next, the hourglass figure it brought out and another ladle of molten glass is poured in to the vessel. The hourglass begins to warp and crack as the lava-hot glass slowly disfigures the piece.

The musicians finish their final song and the patrons give a roaring applause. Potter comes out to congratulate and thank Hardesty and Housworth for their talent. She also lends compliments and thanks to Kirkpatrick and the glass studio staff on a flawless execution of the nights activities. The staff and crowd leave the show feeling quite pleased with how the evening transpired.

By Ellison Gregg

Photography Editor