Monday, September 9, 2013

Glass Boat that Floats

Michael Hengler was awarded a fellowship from the Creative Glass Center of America at Wheaton Arts, in part, for his submitted proposal to make a life sized glass boat.  Some were intrigued, some were encouraging, and others were dubious about his plan to build the boat & then place himself in said boat to float the Delaware river. The planned route of the aquatic ride of Hengler was the same transit route the numerous glass manufacturers in the southern New Jersey region used to transport their glassware during the 1800-1900's.

After convincing himself and others around him the giant boat could be created, Michael set to work.  Henlger and his dedicated and diligent assistant, Mikey Butzine, poured over plans, ideas, and opinions.  Their first few attempts involved pouring hot glass into a boat mold the pair made from plaster, but that boat form was not able to hold it's shape to Hengler's liking.  Multiple processes were attempted and studied before a mutual consensus was met: the boat was to be made out of sheet glass (also known as window glass-as seen in the photo on the right).

Using a glass cutter, the stencil of the boat imagine was etched into the sheet glass and snapped off one piece at a time. The boat will consist of 4 sheets of quarter inch sheet glass layered one on top of another. The four sheets will be melted, or fused, together in an enormous oven before advancing to the next stage. This fusing of sheets proved to be incredibly challenging! Six separate attempts to fuse the sheets were unsuccessful due to either cracking, devitrification (clouded & discolored glass), or uncontrollable temperature fluctuations. Wheaton Arts generously donated supplies for the first FIVE attempts at which point Michael was required to purchase the sheet glass himself for two more attempts. The costly sheet glass was finally fused properly during the seventh and final try.

 Stage two was complete after the sheets spent one week in the oven.  In between the four layers of sheet glass, Michael had placed copper hooks to be fused into the glass.  After the glass cooled, the edges of the form were mounted on tall bricks called fracks. The hooks  were used to tie the boat with metal wire to keep it  from sliding off the fracks during the next stage: slumping.  In the photo below (taken while the boat was still in the oven), you can see the previously flat sheet glass slumping into the desired shape Michael was trying to achieve.

While the boat was slumping and then cooling in the oven for a week during stage 3, Michael was set to make the six foot glass oar needed to paddle himself on his journey. In the picture on the left, he his shaping glass on a metal table called a marver to create part of the oar  In the photo below, you can see his six foot glass oar. It is comprised of several sections of hand blown glass components which were then glued together.

In the photo on the right, Michael is about to open Wheaton Art's nine foot oven (affectionately called "Tiny") to unveil the final attempt at his seven foot glass boat project. Did it crack? Did the slump goes as planned or did it fall off the fracks? Will three months of work produce the coveted boat or is it back to the sketch book to consider more ideas?

 In the photo below, Hengler is pulling the boat out of the oven on it's designated tracks which helps ease the load of the weight.

Success!!! Wheaton Art's artistic director, Hank Adams, joins Michael in his excitement.  The glass boat made it out of the oven without any major issues.  In the photo on the left, Hank is assessing the successful aspects of the slump and possible changes to be made for Michael's  boat if and when he seeks yet another attempt. Hank was an incredibly helpful and resourceful component of Michael's fellowship at Wheaton Arts and we are both grateful for his support and encouragement. Thank you, Hank!!!

For more info on the artist, Michael Hengler, or his artwork, please visit his website at
Michael happily resides in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii and teaches glassblowing at the University of Hawaii.