A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting with Fused Glass artist Rowena Mellows. Rowena works under the name Romelo Glass and makes some really beautiful fused glass items including pictures, hanging decorations, coasters, and trinket dishes. Rowena and I met in the Ministry of Craft 35 on a sunny Thursday afternoon last month. Here’s what I found out during our ‘Cuppa and a Chat’.
Based in Balby, Doncaster, Rowena lives with her Husband, one dog, and one cat. Before Rowena retired and became busy with fused glass and her other hobbies, she was a Skin Cancer Specialist Nurse working in the Dermatology department at Rotherham Hospital.
How do you see your Art? Is it your job or a hobby?
It’s purely a hobby. I retired about 18 months ago and it’s taken up more of my time now but I do it purely as a hobby. I do sell some pieces but really it’s to cover costs.
Other than your art/craft what else do you enjoy doing?
Well, I’ve got a dog so I do a lot of walking. I’ve got an allotment so I’m very busy down there all the time. I enjoy a lot of gardening as well. I like local history. I’m a member of the Doncaster Heritage trust so I go along on a lot of history walks and I volunteer for the Don Valley Catchment River Trust where we are trying to get Salmon back in to the Don. It’s a lot of litter picking, pulling on waders and pulling supermarket trolleys out of the river but I really enjoy that and I do that once a week.
I know that you are a Fused Glass Artist, but describe to me what that actually means?
So, I take sheets of glass, I’ve brought you some sheets of glass so I can show you the sorts of size most of them come in. (Rowena shows me some different textured and coloured sheets of glass. These are approximately the size of an A4 sheet of paper in size and 3mm thick )I cut little pieces out of them and make them into either items, pictures, hanging items, sun catchers and things like that. It’s using glass to build up a picture but instead of with stained glass where you put lead around them or copper foil around them to keep them together, this, once you’ve built your picture, pop it in the Kiln and you bring it to a certain heat and it fuses together. So that’s why it’s called fused glass.
So, I presume this ‘certain heat’ stops it from melting completely?
Yes, depending on how high you take the temperature, depends on what you get at the end. I’m doing Christmas things at the moment (Rowena picks up a gorgeous little snowman decoration as an example)but say you wanted something that’s very lumpy, just sort of stuck on, then you would use a ‘Tack Fuse’ which is the lowest temperature. If you wanted to take things a little bit higher then that’s still a little bit lumpy but it’s a bit more flat and that’s a ‘Contour Fuse’. If you wanted something completely flat when you go for a ‘Full Fuse’ so depending on how hot and for how long you keep it in the kiln depends on what you get out at the end really. Most things are in the Kiln for about twenty-four hours. It’s only a small Kiln.
Describe some of the ‘tools of the trade’ to us.
You’ve got various things that you use to cut glass. People always get worried about glass and think “oh I’m going to cut myself” but actually it’s a very easy material to use, so to cut glass really you’ve got an ordinary glass cutter which has got a little blade on the end of it and it’s got a little bit of oil inside of it so that there is always oil around the cutter. It’s really a case of pulling it across the glass and it breaks the glass (Rowena drags the blade along a piece of glass and is able to snap it cleanly off afterward.) so that’s the basic way but obviously, you don’t always want straight lines. You might want to have curved lines and things like that. If you want bigger pieces you can break it with your hands, but you have got various little cutters that actually snap it or pull it apart depending on what you want. We’ve even got cutters that are similar to what you would cut bathroom tiles with, tile cutters. These will cut tiny little bits (Rowena cuts the corner off of a bigger piece of glass, a tiny corner, a clean-cut, ‘snap’ using the small tile cutters) so those are the main cutting tools.
Apart from that, it’s ordinary glue, the white glue which I use quite a lot of.
Is that to hold all the pieces in place?
Yes, it is and white glue, especially if it’s watered down a bit is ideal because as the temperature goes up in the kiln it evaporates off. You do get a few things that move about in the kiln which is a nuisance if you’ve put something in and you want it to look a special way and then you open the door, twenty four hours later and his mouth (picking up the snowman decoration) might have slid off down here, and you think “oh my goodness” so you have to start again or little things don’t go quite as you had expected.
(Rowena picks up a white poinsettia hanging decoration) I put little bits here in the centre to make it look like a flower and you can see some have floated off in the kiln. So it’s mainly cutting materials than anything else. Obviously pens to mark them and I often do little paper plans and little templates. Little hooks to hang them up with.
When are you able to put the hooks into the hanging pieces? Do they have to go in when the glass is soft?
No, you put them in as you are making it. It actually goes between the layers of glass as you make it and then it fuses right into it. The wire needs to be strong enough to take the temperature of the kiln.
The other things that I use a lot of are little moulds. These are ceramic moulds (Rowena shows me some white ceramic dish moulds) which stand the heat of the kiln, and once you’ve done something (Rowena reaches for a circular disc of glass with sweet like shapes fused in to it) like I’ve just done that, that’s going to be a little bowl with sweets in for Christmas. So I’ve done it flat and to make it stronger it’s had a piece of plain glass put on the bottom so it’s 6mm thick. That’s going to go back into the kiln over a mould at a certain temperature and it will slump into it and you’ll get a bowl shape.
Wow, and will these (sweet shapes) stay the same size and shape?
They do sometimes distort a little bit.
I’d be terrified!
Yes, you can’t always guarantee, but you do it very slowly. You take it (temperature) up very slowly and down very slowly because once it gets up to a certain temperature it’s obviously very fragile, so you need to sort of gradually take it up a small amount each hour which is why it takes so long
You can have various types of moulds. Circles and squares. I’ve got one at home but I’ve not got very good with it yet! You put it in as though you’re doing some petals on a flower and then there’s another mould that’s slightly different. When you’ve got the two bits out afterward you put one with the other and put them back in the kiln again and they’ll fuse into a 3D flower like a daffodil or a tulip or something like that.
It’s quite exciting isn’t it? I guess that moment when you open the door to the Kiln is exciting as you get to see if it’s worked?
Yes, I usually put it on mid-morning, so the next morning when I open it I’m always a little bit nervous, what’s it going to look like? Is it going to turn out right?
(Rowena picks up another type of mold with stars and heart shapes) You can fill these up with little bits of powdered glass, or what they call ‘Frit’. You put that in the kiln and it will actually come out in the shape (of the mould).
So you can make little hanging decorations with those?
Yes or you can use them in something else. What I also tend to do is when I’ve got little odd bits of glass and the kilns going on I put little blobs of glass in and it gives you little nuggets and they’re really handy for adding to things.
They’re lovely. There is a lovely sheen on some of those.
Yes, there is. You get a lovely sheen especially if they are transparent. You can get the transparent glass and opaque glass.
You can read the second installment of Rowena’s interview where I ask her what inspires her and how she feels about Art in the community, in our next blog post coming soon.
Thanks for reading,
(Louisa-Jane Dyson for Ministry of Craft 35)