Now that winter weather is here and the first snowflakes become the first snow, that first snow will soon be melted.
But while the snow is here, snowflakes decorate the evergreens with their shimmering whiteness, a winter wonderland symbol just right to adorn a tree. But of course, snowflakes melt. Yes, Virginia, snowflakes melt, but only real snowflakes melt. How about glass snowflakes?
Glass snowflakes never melt, except when they are made. This prompted a visit to the studio of Jim Thorpe glass artist Nic East to learn how glass melts to create unmeltable snowflakes.
East notes that many people are familiar with blown glass, a popular method of creating hollow objects, like ball-shaped ornaments and figurines such as angels, that are blown into molds.
But East prefers to work with a fused glass technique, a process that takes pieces of glass, assembles them into a three dimensional shape and heats them to the fusing point of the glass, far below the 2,250° melting point of glass. It's just hot enough for the pieces to soften and bind to one another.
East begins by using his computer to help create an original design drawing of a snow flake. He draws the first series full-size at a six inch diameter. He creates a series of snowflake designs, because in nature, no two snowflakes are exactly alike. When he actually makes the snowflakes, several will be made of each design, so they will be similar, although each is hand assembled and accented separately.
Although his snowflakes will all be made from white glass, his sketch is in color, with a different color representing each layer of glass. When he assembles the pieces of glass, he plans to stack the pieces three high, according to the color code of his sketch. In the kiln, they will fuse into a single layer.
When East is satisfied with his design, he prints the image on an oversized inkjet printer onto a 13 x 19-inch sheet of a special mineral paper that is designed to be used in a kiln.
He takes the design to his workshop, and from his stock of glass, he takes out a -inch thick, one foot square sheet of white iridescent fusible glass. He cuts it into strips a quarter-inch wide, and cuts these strips into lengths one to two inches long.
He lays down the first layer of strips on to the mineral paper, which has been laid on top of a ceramic shelf, and uses a white glue to hold the pieces in place. This type of glue will burn off in the kiln without leaving residue. After adding the remaining two layers of iridescent glass, East adds a bit of color by gluing small hemispheres of dichroic glass to highlight the design.
Once all the layered and ornamented glass snowflakes have filled the mineral paper template, East inserts the ceramic shelf with the mineral paper and the fusible glass snowflake parts, and turns on the kiln to 1,300°F. The kiln heats the glass to this temperature where it softens and fuses, then the kiln turns itself off, and begins a 2-1/2 hour cool-down.
Nic East's snowflake designs are available at his Hill Home Forge studio, 10 Flagstaff Road in Jim Thorpe (570) 325-0216, and are on display for Jim Thorpe's Old-Tyme Christmas at Opera Square Antiques 11 West Broadway in Jim Thorpe (862) 219-3813.