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Smooth as glass

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Among the first things a visitor notices when entering Lizbeth and Rick Harper’s home is masks.
Masks collected from more than 30 years of world travels masks hang on the wall opposite the front door.

The masks led Lizbeth to a passion for glass. Her initial works after taking a class in fused glass were a series of masks to mirror her collection. She says she loves the color and form, so it made a perfect match for her. She also enjoys working with glass because it doesn’t take up too much room.

Harper makes fused glass pieces from pendant-size jewelry to large plates and bowls. Each is completely fused or melted into a single form that not only is visually pleasing but is smooth to the touch. And since Harper is a perfectionist, she won’t sell a piece that doesn’t meet her exacting standards.

Harper credits her kiln for much of the perfection of her pieces. She has a small kiln that holds only one large piece or six small ones. Consequently there are no hot or cold spots, and the pieces melt into each other smoothly and completely.

Matters of degree
Harper spent a great deal of time firing samples so she knows what temperature each type and color of glass needs to melt properly. And the pieces aren’t just fired at one temperature for a given time period.  Harper changes settings and the timing depending on the pieces she is firing, following what she found from her samples.

Each piece starts out flat. She adds decorations, sets the piece on a mold and places it carefully into the kiln. She changes settings and times to get the pieces to slump or fall into the mold and get the colors to melt together. This is the science behind fused glass that Harper does not particularly enjoy.

Harper’s artistic ability with the glass is what makes her pieces so striking. 

She starts by cutting the glass, scoring it with a cutter and clamping to break it along the score. If the glass has flaws, it will not break at the correct places, and the piece she envisioned is ruined.

After cutting, Harper adds smaller pieces of glass as decorations. She moves them around until she finds a design that pleases her.

Sparkle and flash
For heavier works such as plates or bowls, Harper cuts two identically shaped pieces, one clear, the other in color. They are fused in the kiln to give the glass strength and round the edges.
Decorations can be added at any time. They are fused into the glass form before it gets slumped into the mold.

Harper enjoys using dichroic glass for the decorations because the fine metallic glaze gives sparkle and flash to the finished piece. She was taught to use glue to hold the decorations in place before firing but she seldom uses it now because it can cloud or mar the glass during firing.

Since some of the dichroic glass is in rods, the decorations may move as she walks the work her studio to the kiln. She often takes a photo to be sure the decorations are in the correct places before she sets the piece in the kiln. Then the science takes over.

Reach Dana Casey at dcasey@sequimgazette.com.

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