Dumpdiggers met Neal Kuellmer, a borosilicate lampworker at his home studio on a rainy day, March 4th, 2009. He explained to me how lampworking is different than glassblowing; it requires a fraction of the energy and produces different results. Today its used to make intricate but functional art glass, jewelry, pipes and bongs.
Artist Neal Kuellmer of Metamorphosis Glassworks provides Canadian society with custom glass and functional art from his studio at 146 Brock Ave just north of Queen St W (other side of the bridge just past the beer store).
Unit 303 is at the back end of the top floor of an old industrial building (owned by Mervin of course) right off the railroad tracks opposite a primary school. The building is probably one of the last ‘artist communities’ left in Toronto, a city where sky high real estate prices have converted almost all of the old manufacturing and warehouse buildings into expensive urban condos. But this building proves there are still pockets of independent art production and manufacturing software, here and there, all along Queen West.
Neal has about twelve hundred square feet and two big windows under a metal roof upon which the rain outside beat a steady tattoo. Neal has the place all to himself, a creative domain in which to make his daily bread. The guy is pretty cool, he offered me a cold beer as soon I walked in the door and the beats were pumping. He posed for some pictures by the window before we got busy in his shop.
Neal doesn’t have a big blast furnace like the glassblowers at the Toronto Harbourfront Centre, but rather he uses a fat propane torch fixed to a bench. As I watched he worked a lump of material with glass rods – but I didn’t give him time to do anything fancy. Nor did I pause to learn anything about the processes; I'd have to experience it all over again to really understand it. While researching the subject however, I did find a great page on the history of lampwork in the Online Glass Museum.
Here’s what I do know: Kuellmer of Metamorphosis Glassworks makes functional art, jewelry, and ornaments to suit the public. He sells most of his work in shops along Queen St West and in special shows and exhibitions, some of which occur at his studio. Borosilicate glass is a type of glass with the main glass-forming constituents being silica and boron oxide. Borosilicate glass was first developed by German glassmaker Otto Schott in the late 19th century, and sold under the brand name "Duran" in 1893. After Corning Glass Works introduced Pyrex in 1915, it became a synonym for borosilicate glass in the English-speaking world. The European manufacturer of Pyrex, Arc International, still uses borosilicate glass to make its Pyrex glass kitchen products.
This coming spring and summer, Neal is opening his doors to the public, and will be sharing his studio and his experience with students. Do you want to make your own earrings? or how about a hanging mobile for your kitchen window? Neal is now taking appointments for one on one classes - that's the best way to learn the art and science of borosilicate lampwork. Very small classes (only one or two people each time) will be given five hours of information and practical execution, for one hundred dollars each. This fee covers all expenses and materials, anyone interested in learning the craft can email metaglass AT gmail DOT com.