Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

One of my favorite places on earth... Just a hop, skip, and a jump over to Kokomo, Indiana!
      I have been shopping for glass at Kokomo Opalescent Glass since my first glass class in college, quite a while back.  I love getting my sheet glass here not only because it is so close to home, but because I love the idea of supporting local manufacturers when I can. (Hobby Lobby sells beautiful glass, but it's not made in my own back yard!).  AND, KOG has loads of scrap glass that I can pick up at very affordable prices!  
A frame I made using sheet glass made at Kokomo Opalescent Glass
      Even though I've been visiting KOG for years, I had never taken the opportunity to take to the guided factory tour they give every Tuesday through Friday. Until this summer, that is!  I had planned this tour for mid-summer, and was very excited...until the summer decided to mimic the conditions of hell for weeks on end!  Knowing that sheet glass is molten at some point in it's creation, I postponed our tour waiting for a day where the temperature might only reach the mid-nineties! 
Entering the KOG glass manufacturing building
      Finally it arrived!  A coolish day (only 85!) and slightly rainy at times, perfect for touring the KOG sheet glass making factory, where the fiery gas-fed furnace burns at 2500 degrees, 24 hours a day.
The ingredients for the 122 year old glass "recipes" are placed into each of the 12 pots of this furnace and overnight they are melted together in preparation to become sheet art glass.
      The first sight that greeted us inside the factory was this old, crusty looking "honeycomb" furnace.  We learned that this gas furnace burns 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Can you imagine their gas bill?   Each day's work begins at 6 a.m. when the glass ladlers are ready to start dipping the molten lava-like glass from inside this furnace. 
These workers are ready to ladle.
The long silver handles are attached to little bowls which carry the molten glass.
Right now they are cooling in a tank of water.
A pile of left-over molten glass.
You have absolutely no idea what color the glass is until it cools.  
      Every minute and a half a bell rings, signaling the men to dip their ladles into the furnace and gather the glass for the next sheet of art glass to be made.  They dip out certain amounts of particular colors, then rush over to the mixing table.
The mad dash to the mixing table.
 (Please forgive the blurriness of my photos.  Flash photos would distract the workers handling the molten lava-glass.)
Depositing the molten glass onto the mixing table.  
      Once the ladles are emptied onto the mixing table, a flat metal surface on a conveyor, the Mix Man mixes the 45-50 pounds of liquid colors together with a two-pronged fork. 
The Mix Man mixing.  
      The Mix Man, a highly experienced craftsman, basically determines what the glass sheet will look like in the end. Too much mixing and the colors will combine too much and develop an indistinct look.  Too little mixing will produce blotchy, uneven color blends.  Once his mixing-intuition is satisfied, the Mix Man feeds the glass through double rollers, extruding a sheet of glass about 96 inches long and 35 inches wide. 
The mixed glass being sent through double rollers, extruded into a flat sheet, and sent into the annealing lehr, or oven.
      Once the molten glass is pressed into a sheet, it moves to an annealing lehr where it will cool to its natural color.  An annealing lehr is a temperature controlled oven where the glass can cool slowly to prevent breaking. At the end of the glass's journey it reaches the cutting area.
The cutting area.
The large silver "wall" behind the men is the annealing lehr.
The glass is conveyed out, directly into the cutting room.
       Glass cutters, wearing heavy arm protectors, check for consistent thickness and colors, then trim the glass sheet and throw the cut-offs into a bin for recycling.    
Inspecting and stacking finished glass sheets, ready for shipment or retail.
       The finished glass sheets are then shipped off to anxiously waiting customers around the world, or sold in the Op Shop (KOG's on-site retail shop) to local, and not-so-local, glass artists. 

Prepared glass in the aptly nicknamed Rainbow Room.
      Our tour didn't end with the sheet glass production.  We went on to tour the factory's hot glass studio where they create hand spun and blown glass art, and also visited with the craftspeople producing stained glass art, windows, glass beads, and other art glass creations.  I learned so much about the glass making process during my tour of Kokomo Opalescent Glass, and left feeling all sorts of inspired! I can't wait to go again...anyone up for a field trip?! 

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! I never knew this place existed! How cool, thanks for sharing these photos and inside look. Can't wait to see more of your creations!