It has always fascinated me how our tūpuna (ancestors) were able to produce so many functional day to day objects that were aesthetic majestic art pieces. Not only were they masterful designs but they were also embellished with detailed surface designs of the finest calibre.The woven objects like eel nets (hinaki), crayfish pots (taruke) or mats (whāriki) had similar functional aspects like most other indigenous cultures but there were specific ones that were creative masterpieces.
As an artist who works in glass, I wanted to see these forms produced in glass but first I needed to know if this was even possible. Because I didn’t know anyone who was weaving glass I had to find someone doing something similar. It just so happened I was following a glass artist Carol Milne, who had mastered the art of knitting glass. Yes! Knitting glass. And, she was coming to NZ for the annual Glass Conference and was running a couple of workshops. So I jumped onto one and started the journey.
Following is a description of the process taken to produce a marquette of a food basket (kete). Firstly I felt it necessary to work with an artist, Fiona Collis, whose primary skill set was weaving so that she could guide me through some of the finer complexities surrounding woven artifacts like baskets, nets, mats etc.
Step 1: Sourcing wax rods suitable for the project. These needed to be flattened sufficiently to give the impression of working with the flatter natural material of harakeke (flax). I found an easy solution in the printing press. This was able to flatten them out to just how I wanted.
Step 2: Weave a sample whariki (mat) to see how the material takes to being woven and in what temperature. If the wax is too brittle it breaks as we found out early in the piece.
Step 3: Interweave wax threads to form a kete (basket) form. This was best done when the
air / room temperature was quite warm around the mid 20’s celsius. This enabled the wax rods to be threaded more easily without breaking, and setting the shape whilst the wax was softer was a safer option.
Step 4: The next stage is to attach the handles to the basket all the while ensuring the joins are strongly secured. These will need to be secure enough to carry the weight of the investment material.
Step 5: Add reservoirs to hold the glass and vents to the piece to release any air pockets that will be present in the mold when the glass melts into the cavities. Strengthen the mold using skewers dipped in wax.
Step 6: Mix the first of the investment material using one part silica, one part casting plaster and one part water. In places of fine detail use an old paint brush or flick the investment material onto the surface of the sculptural piece.
Step 7: Mix the second layer, but this time add some grout or fibreglass strips for added strength. This really will depend on the size of the sculptural piece you want to cast. Mix successive layers until you are satisfied there s good mold thickness (15-20mm).
Step 8: Make sure to level the final layer with a spirit level. This ensures the mold will sit level in the kiln during the firing process.
Step 9: Steam out the wax using the steaming system.
Step 10: Weigh the glass needed to fill the mold. I use the volume displacement x 3.6 when using gaffer glass.
Step 11: Set the firing programme and crank up the kiln.
Step 12: On completion of the firing cycle remove mold from the kiln and fully submerge to help release the investment material.
Step 13: Clean and remove excess glass.
Step 14: Cold finish and /or soak in sugar acid.