|Combining the elements
By KELLY BRAUN
The Daily Standard
ROCKFORD - Don't tell artists James Michael Kahle or Rebecca Low they
can't do something.
Because they'll try to prove you wrong.
Kahle, a glass artist based in Rockford, and Low, a metal sculptor with
a gallery in Fort Worth, Texas, have taken one vision and a double dose of willpower to
create one-of-a-kind sculptures made of copper and glass. The two say many artists will
not attempt to combine metal and glass in one piece, because the difference in heating and
cooling glass versus metal often causes glass to shatter.
But the laws of standard physics didn't stop this duo.
Together they are making two life-size sculptures of glass and copper,
one of a child and the other of a ballerina. The legs of both are made of copper and the
torsos are made of solid glass. Inside each glass torso is a copper skeleton and special
mementos - three solid glass planets in red, green and orange and a copper airplane inside
the boy and copper ballet slippers inside the ballerina. The mementos represent what's in
their hearts, their dreams, Low says.
The two artists began developing the idea nearly three years ago, and
since have put in thousands of hours figuring out how to do it. They've made sample
pieces, calculated temperatures and cooling times and put a "ton of mental work"
into the creativity, Low says.
For the last week and a half, Low has been working with Kahle at his
workshop in Rockford to get the art pieces ready to be placed in the ovens. They've named
the boy sculpture "Dreams" and the ballerina "Fourth Position,"
because her feet are in the fourth ballet position.
On Thursday, the two artists and a team of four helpers began to bring
the boy to life.
Nearly 200 to 300 pounds of molten glass at 2,400 degrees was poured
for the boy's torso, and the entire sculpture, copper legs and all, was placed inside a
950-degree oven for the annealing process. The oven temperature slowly will be dropped
until the entire piece, from the core of the sculpture to the exterior, decreases to room
temperature - a process taking about two months, the artists estimate.
The glass torso of the ballerina was poured Friday, and she also has
been placed in the oven for the next few months.
Before the process was started on Thursday, Low stressed that each step
must be completed properly and nothing can be rushed.
"When you get in a hurry, there will be mistakes, and in these
pieces, mistakes will be fatal," Low said, while smirking at Kahle as they took a
break. The ornery smirk was returned with Kahle quipping that when anything goes wrong, it
must be Low's fault.
The two artists are alike - from their constant teasing of each other
to the passion for their work.
Low, 50, first took up metal sculpting as a hobby 10 years ago, and
about five years ago, she quit her job as an interior designer to become a full-time
artist. Kahle's story is similar - he worked for years in several occupations, then quit
his job 13 years ago to become a full-time artist. Both artists now have pieces on display
Kahle, 48, first met Low about three years ago when he was showing his
glasswork in Fort Worth. A metal stand for one of Kahle's pieces broke and needed to be
welded together, so a local person suggested he call Low. He took a trip to Low's
5,000-square-foot gallery and was amazed at the metal sculptures, ranging in size from
three feet to more than 20 feet. Quite a treat
"When I first saw Rebecca's stuff, I was like a kid in a candy
store," Kahle said.
During this chance meeting, Low told Kahle about her vision of
combining a life-size metal and glass sculpture into one. For six years, Low had this idea
and every glass artists who heard the idea told her it couldn't be done - until she met
Kahle. He immediately said yes.
"I think the sky is the limit," Low said. "And I've
found we both have that same kind of mentality."
"The work we create, sometimes it just simply gets done by force
of will," Kahle added. "You just don't take no for an answer ... you just
will it to happen."
That willpower, along with thousands of hours of planning and testing,
led to Thursday and Friday, when the glass was poured and the sculptures were put to rest
in the ovens for two months. Low says she plans to return when the sculptures come out of
the ovens. Then there will be hundreds of hours spent grinding, polishing and cleaning the
pieces to create the finished look.
Low said she hopes the finished pieces will be placed in a museum for
many to enjoy.
But until the process is finished, both artists will be keeping their
fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong with the ovens. There are several variables - from
electrical outages to oven maintenance problems - that could be devastating and ruin both
And what if something goes wrong or a miscalculation causes the glass
to shatter? Will the two try again?
"Absolutely," they said.
And don't try to tell them they can't.
to open second glass gallery
Glass artist James Michael Kahle of Rockford is opening a second glass
gallery and workshop at the Village of Winona Lake, a community of artisan shops, historic
sites and recreational areas near Warsaw, Ind.
Kahle said he hopes to open his new shop the first week of June. The
daily operations of the shop will be run by Kahle's apprentice, Duane Darland, 22, of
Celina. Kahle will be at the shop weekends to give demonstrations for the public.
Kahle and Darland have been working together for almost five years.
Darland took pottery courses in high school, but learned everything about glass from
Kahle. The young artist now sells his work.
"That kid has got more talent now than I ever dreamed about,"
Kahle said of Darland.
The shop in Rockford, Glass by James Michael, opened in July 2001 and
includes a gallery of Kahle's glasswork and a workshop in back with various ovens. Prior
to moving to Rockford, Kahle worked out of a studio in Spencerville.
Kahle first learned the art of glass blowing at the Toledo Museum of
Art in 1990 and immediately began to experiment with putting glass and metal together -
something his teachers said couldn't be done. Kahle's work now is shown internationally
for its unique combinations of mixed media inside glass.
After opening the shop in Indiana, Kahle says he plans to look into
opening 10 or 15 more shops in the United States and internationally that also could be
run by his apprentices. If successful, Kahle says he would like to see student artists
travel to his various shops to learn different glass techniques.
"This would give them a chance to learn, but also to travel and
see the different ways of life," Kahle said.
- Kelly Braun