Thursday, November 04, 2010

Baby, Why Don't We Go Down To Kokomo?

Today, I went to Kokomo for a tour of the Kokomo Opalescent Glass. Our inimitable Becky Williams organized the tour. I believe 13 of us travelled South for it, and the tour and glass were awesome and very inspiring.

First of all, I must confess I made us all late. Sigh.

Secondly, I had a lovely drive there with Charlotte, Sarah, Mary and Phyllis. We expounded on the Great Wolf Lodge, and the nature of age, and a variety of business -- not necesarily in that order.

When we arrived at the Opalescent Glass Factory, we went into the gift shop, browsed and paid our $5 for the tour. We got to wear sexy, plastic glasses and sign a waiver. You know it's going to be fun when you sign a waiver! Then, our lovely guide escorted us into the main glassworks area and we encountered (drumroll please) the beehive.

The beehive is the main center of activity for the art glass production. Elsewhere there are three older kiln-like furnaces where the glass for that day is heated to a particular temperature. It is then transferred here into one of the 12 fire-pots to be heated to a temperature over 2000F degrees. At the time we visited, two men took turns scooping the molten glass out of a container, skipping it over to the extruder press, and then putting the scoop into a water tank to cool it. Each man took a scoop out of a separate pot which, I believe, contained different colored glass.

The guys who carried the buckets of molten glass had to skip and hop to the extruder table. In so doing, they kept the glass moving, so no part of it cooled and solidified before it hit the table. Next, the guy at the extruder table took a metal poker-like tool, and hooked the glass and tossed it a couple times as well. This mixed the colors of glass and helped get some of the air bubbles out of it. Then, he pushed it toward the double rollers of the extruder which squeezed it to 1/4" thickness and onto a travelling. The table that held the glass rolled through a larger machine that gradually cooled the glass until it could be handled.

I must point out that the extruder guy has a great sense of fashion. Go Crimson and Cream!

At one point while we were there as well, the men at the beehive skimmed some scum or scag off the top of the molten glass, and just dumped it on the floor to harden and throw away. It was beautiful, like a molten egg.

On the way to view the rest of the production we passed barrels and barrels of glass shards -- a myriad of different colors.

The colors were magnificent. We weren't allowed to use flash, so these pictures in no way capture the depth and brilliance of the hues, but here's a few anyway:

And there were barrels of this stuff. Barrels and barrels. All previously produced by the factory and ready and waiting to be recycled into more art glass. i believe our tour guide said there are over 3,000 colors made by KOG, and then they mix them, or make the glass of varying shades of transparency, from Opalescent, Cathedral, Opalume or Streaky, and of varying densities. Then there is the texture. There are nine differing types of texture at least, from smooth to seedy, to ripple to hammered... in fact, KOG is the company that provided the glass to Tiffany for all his work, and he wanted just the "cat's eye" glass. That is glass of a particular texture, which is, of course, more fragile.

Anyways, here we were amongst all these sparkling jewels. It was a good thing that it would all cut us if we tried to take any! For some reason, the guides indicated the men were more apt to pick up pieces and touch machinery. That surprised me, as all of the women on the tour had to keep their hands in their pockets (Mary, you know who you are).

The next step was on the other side of the machinery. Two men with cutters trimmed the top and bottom ends off, and either recycled them, or sent them to the sales area. All the glass being produced already has buyers. And the sales are from everywhere. Twenty percent of sales are for overseas. That day, they had an order from Liverpool and Vietnam. The orders are kept in this area until all the glass has been completed (it may take up to 6 months). Then, the orders are packed in handmade boxes with shredded wood and packing paper. They are weighed, customs forms are filled out, and they head out to their eager buyer. The last photos are of samples and sheets available to sell, including the Tiffany/cat's eye room.

Here are some of the completed, shelved glass sheets available for purchase. All three of these pictured are the same texture, density, and color combination, but each are so unique:

In the back, two glass artists worked creating the items available in the gift shop. Today they were working on rondels. Pretty fascinating. Unfortunately, I didn't get a clear shot of them. Behind that is their finishing room. Some lovely ornaments were waiting to go to the front gift shop.

Once we got back to the gift shop, I understood their prices a little better! But as well as the stained glass and art pieces available in the gift shop, there is a large inventory of seconds and smaller pieces of glass that many artists snap up for their work. Even beautiful plinths, or polished glass triangles are for sale currently for $15. They can be used as a base for an award to hand on. Much nicer than metal and plastic, they glow with the recepient's pride! And they are all made locally.

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