Glass Bread Slices!

Glass bread slice © J. Thomson

I was a graduate student in the Glass department at Tyler School of Art, 1998-2000. During my first year there, I became interested in the theme of domesticity… and what’s more domestic than bread? Initially I made a sculpture out of wax and clay of an over-sized slice of bread. I lovingly poked each hole in the bread to make a realistic texture. Then I made a mold of it using a plaster-like refractory material in which I poured molten glass from the hot shop. While this worked really well, it was too time consuming and I could only get a single glass piece from each mold (since the glass sticks to the mold material, and has to be broken apart to get the glass out.) And I needed to produce more pieces (per my professors).

So I ended up making a wooden mold—essentially a plank of wood (soaked in water so it didn’t catch fire) with a bread-slice-shaped hole in the middle. For each slice I made, I lined the inside of the cavity with some material for texture, in this case lead shot and sand, and ladled molten glass into the mold. Using this method, I could crank out dozens of them in a single session in the hot studio.

I have to admit that I was looking for ways to make my glass uglier at the time… (I used the term “crunchy”). While all the undergrads, and some of the grad students were concerned with making pretty shiny happy glass, I was an Art student (with a capital A), not a student of crafts. Now I wish I had pushed it further. My hot hop partner A. J. Bocchino was making some beautiful “ugly” pieces, but I couldn’t afford all the copper and metals he was using.

These glass pieces came to light recently because an old friend of mine asked me if I still had any for sale. So I dug out the boxes from the back of my studio, photographed them, and now they’re available for sale again for the first time in more than ten years. $25 each includes shipping anywhere in the USA via USPS Priority Mail. Use the links below to order.

Wheat (sand)     Multigrain (shot)     Combo (sand+shot)

There are two kinds available: “wheat” bread (with a combination of sand and a little lead shot on the surface), and “multigrain” with lots of lead shot. They are just a little bigger than life size (about 6.5″ x 5″ x .5″ thick). The sand and/or shot is not glued to the glass in any way, so expect pieces of it to come off… I’ve seen them displayed on a wall, vertically on a shelf, or laid out horizontally on a table. Just be sure that the sand/lead shot won’t scratch the table surface you put them on.

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Bread sculptures (1999-2000)

Bread house, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

During the Fall semester of 1999 I submitted this house sculpture made entirely out of bread for a critique and an exhibit of student work. It garnered high praise in the critique for its quiet, yet subversive quality, especially since I was a glass student and this had nothing to do with glass. To create it, I commissioned a metal sculptor to create a sturdy steel mold for this piece, so I could reproduce it at will. It takes about 3 lbs of bread dough (or about 3 times the size of a normal loaf). I showed the sculpture on a pedestal made of old bricks (context!) and allowed the bread to slowly mold and decay during the run of the show. It was like a slow performance (this photo was taken early in the run). By the end of the exhibit, the house had begun to warp in on itself as it dried out, and was consumed by mold on the inside.

Bolstered by the positive response, I became obsessed during the winter break with bread making. I made hundreds of loaves of all kinds. I’d never baked before, but I taught myself how, and I baked most of the bread in annealing ovens in the glass shop, or in the large gas kilns in the ceramics studio.

I even tried making life-size bread chairs. For my first go at it, I fabricated a steel mold of a life sized three-dimensional chair. I kneaded about 50 pounds of bread dough using the clay mixer in the ceramics department, and loaded my chair into the large gas kiln. Everyone around kept following the scent of fresh bread baking into the kiln room. I wish I had thought to take pictures of the process. Unfortunately, that first chair was a complete failure. When I got it back to my studio after it was baked, and unmolded it, it was so heavy that it couldn’t stand its own weight and collapsed within a minute or two. It was such a challenge just to knead all that dough, and load the mold into the kiln I decided a different approach was kneaded (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).

My next try was more successful. I found two old diner chairs in the dumpster, and stripped all the upholstery and padding away. After a few modifications, I was able to “upholster” the two chairs with bread dough. I loaded them into the glass annealing ovens this time (better control over temperature than the gas fired ceramics kiln) and baked them. Although the weight of the dough pulled the back off of one, it actually is more interesting because it lets the viewer see how they are made.

Bread Chairs, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

These pieces too were well received in critiques, and I decided to focus on my theme of “subverted domesticity” for my final semester in graduate school. Although I did abandon bread for the final exhibits, I did enjoy doing it and learned a lot during the process. And of course, I am still an avid baker at home today, but I usually eat the results now.

Tree Collage (1999)

Tree collage, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

Another collage of trees with several of the Wings of Desire chrysallis sculptures attached to them. My professor hated the idea so I never made them, but he loved this collage. Available in the gift shop here.

Slice (1999)

Slice, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

Having just returned to the United States after a year’s absence, and then re-uniting with my partner and relocating to Philadelphia, I was in a mood to settle down. I started exploring issues of domestic life, and this is the first indication of something I would explore for years. This drawing of a slice of bread represents home and comfort, as well as the banality of everyday life.

I went on to make cast glass sculptures of bread slices from molds I carefully made, (unfortunately, I only have slides of these, and no way to scan them). But this process was too time consuming for my busy schedule. Not only did I have to spend hours and hours making the original sculpture out of clay or wax and creating the mold from that, but I also had to anneal the glass slowly in a kiln over a period of days or weeks. Finally, I would have to spend hours cold working the glass to grind and polish away any imperfections.

So I invented a new more immediate technique. I made a mold of an oversized slice of bread out of a thick piece of wood, which I kept soaking in water. Then I could pour hot molten glass into it, and have them out of the annealing oven in two days. I made hundreds of slices of bread this way, and showed them in various configurations in the gallery for exhibits and critiques. I even sold a few at a gallery in Chelsea in New York City. I still have many of these slices packed away, and they can be purchased relatively cheaply too. Just drop me a line if you’re interested.

I also explored using bread in other ways, including as a sculptural medium itself.

 

Saint Lucy (1999)

St. Lucy, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved.

Another drawing of Saint Lucy, this time a flying mermaid also makes an appearance. I’m not sure why now. Available in the gift shop here.

Saint Lucy (1999)

Saint Lucy, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved.

Saint Lucy, from my 1999 Sketchbook. Available in the gift shop here.

Saint Lucy is a Christian saint (whose name comes from the Latin Lux, for light; she is the patron saint of blind people) who spurned her suitors and consecrated her virginity to God. In one version of the story, her would-be husband tortured her and took her eyes out with a fork; in another version her suitor admired her eyes, so she pulled them out and told him to leave her to God. She is usually depicted holding a pair of eyes on a platter.

Messiah (1999)

Messiah, © 1999 J. Thomson all rights reserved

Messiah, from my 1999 sketchbook. Available in the giftshop here.

Madonna (1999)

Madonna © 1999 J. Thomson all rights reserved

Madonna, From my 1999 sketchbook. Available in the giftshop here.

1999 Sketchbook

© 1999 J. Thomson

During my year as artist in residence in Scotland, I was talked into applying for graduate school at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Because of the timing of my stay in Scotland, I would have to wait another year back in the states before applying to schools, and I wasn’t sure what I would do for that year.

To make a long story short, I was accepted into the MFA program in glass at Tyler, but that meant I had to leave Scotland a month early so I could go home, pack and move to Philadelphia, a city I’d never been to before.

To say my first few months back were a bit of culture shock for me is an understatement. I was reeling. I didn’t know what I wanted to make art about, and I was still trying to get grounded in a routine at my new school. The work load was horrific (15 credits a semester, plus studio work–my glassblowing time slot was 2am – 4am–as well as student teaching/work study). I barely had time to think. And because working in glass is so time consuming, there was hardly time to finish any work for critiques.

It was obvious I was floundering, and one of my professors insisted that I keep a sketchbook, even though I’d stopped doing that years earlier, and didn’t really have time to do it anyway. These are the covers of the sketchbook, and the next few posts will have some drawings from it.

© 1999 J. Thomson