After more than twenty years of working with glass, including a time of study on the island of Murano in Venice, Ethan Bond Watts had never heard of anyone making glass completely from scratch, using naturally gathered materials. Glass artists typically begin with “cullet” — recycled bits of glass from former creations that can be remelted with relative ease.
Limestone (CaCO3) — to increase the hardness of the resulting glass
These ingredients are typically sourced in bulk from industrial suppliers to guarantee their purity. Once sourced, they’re usually heated in a high-powered propane or electric furnace to reach the temperatures required for the so-called “glass transition” to occur (2,500+ degrees Fahrenheit). This complexity makes the prospect of manual glass-making essentially quixotic, and so it is rarely attempted.
I’d never really worked with physical materials before — never driven a tractor, never used a chainsaw, never swung a maul. Through my work with Ethan, I was learning not only the creation of glass, but also the ways of being a Vermonter.
In this ritual, we set out to gather the various ingredients from around the local landscape to make our own glass completely from scratch, including building our own hillside furnace made of clay cob from the surrounding fields.
To gather potash, we use a two-man band saw to fell a dead tree, a chainsaw to slice it up into sections, and an axe and a maul to split it into logs.
Felling a tree
We make a bonfire to burn my mother’s private paperwork — her divorce agreement from my dad, her medical records, her marked up books on psychiatry, and other sensitive documents that my sister and I felt should be destroyed.
Making a fire
We harvest ashes from the dying bonfire with a wooden sieve.
We dissolve the ashes into water, then pour the settled water through a series of smaller plastic sieves, so that only the liquid solution remains.
Refining ash water
We use a propane turkey boiler to evaporate the liquid solution, in order to isolate its potassium carbonate (i.e. potash) to use as our flux.