gmhTODAY 03 gmhToday July Aug 2015 - Page 38

Artfully yours Helen Badarak Turning Glass Into Art Written & Photographed By Laura Wrede G lass has been used as an art form and as a functional element for centuries. While some attribute the discovery of glass to Phoenician sailors 4,000 years ago, other scholars say that glass was a process of discovery made over a long period of time by various high-heat artisans who experimented with mixtures of silica sand or ground quartz pebbles and alkali. No one really knows for certain when the first discovery took place, or who really deserves the credit; however, archeological digs have unearthed glass beads from the coast of Northern Syria (Mesopotamia) as far back as 3500 BC. In order to make natural materials into glass, you need to heat the elements to an intense heat of 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Obsidian, a naturally occurring glass rock, is found in volcanic regions where the heat from volcanic action and subsequent fast cooling turns molten rock into glass. Once glass has been created, the pieces can then be molded and shaped by reheating to as low as 1,500 degrees. This process of reshaping and forming pieces of glass over molds and allowing them too stick together is called slumping, anartistic practice that captivated artist Helen Badarak who opened her Morgan Hill studio, Glass by Helen, just a few years ago. Helen first began creating art as a profession while in her mid-forties. She was fascinated by the idea of making fused glass pieces and integrating it into jewelry. After giving away pieces as gifts, friends and family were impressed by her talent and encouraged her to sell her pieces on a more official level. In 2008 Helen launched an art jewelry line. “After a few years I decided I wanted to incorporate fused glass into my designs since I’ve always been intrigued with glass.” She borrowed a kiln from a friend and jumped right in teaching herself everything she could about creating art with fused glass. “I was hooked from day one! Watching the glass go through the movement and changes while being heated in the kiln totally fascinated me. I kept grasping for information anywhere I could to learn about the glass fusing process. I took a course at BAGI and the Art Glass Center (both located in San Jose).” Helen then 38 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN began adding other pieces, including bowls and plates, which work well with the technique of glass fusion. The process of glass fusion is a bit different than other types of glass techniques such as glass blowing. In glass fusion you have less control over the end product which can lead to unexpected outcomes. You have to be careful that you combine “like materials” that cool at the same rates, otherwise cracking will take place. Incorporating similar materials together can also mean knowing which colors can go together. Even colors can affect the rate of cooling. As Helen chooses which glass pieces to fuse, she also allows her artistic instincts to guide the process. “When I make a piece of art I’m guided by the glass. I will peruse through my selection and pull out a piece of glass that interests me at that moment. From there I will decide what I’m going to make. A bowl, abstract art, a candle holder, vase, etcetera. I let the glass guide me through the process. I guess you could say it talks to me in a way. From there I will cut the glass into the shapes needed to complete my design. “I’ll stack the pieces as needed sometimes capping them in another piece of glass. Then the piece will be placed in the kiln and fired (fused) to temps up to 1500 degrees. This process can take up to 24 hours from start to cool down. The piece is then removed from the kiln and cleaned to prepare it for its subsequent firings. Some pieces can be fired as many as four times before they arrive at it’s completed stage.” Each piece may come out a little different than the next, even when molds are used. As Helen built up her clientele and gained success as was evident when she landed an order from Calera Winery to make over seven hundred holiday gift pieces for their wine club members. “That catapulted me into glass fusing in a big way. I only had a very small kiln.” To fulfill Calera’s order she needed to increase production which meant investing in more equipment than the one small kiln in her home studio. She went from one tiny kiln to two large production kilns, a studio kiln, and a test kiln. Among Helen’s other successes include a glass Grammy JULY / AUGUST 2015 gmhtoday.com