Story & Photos By Cyndi Chambers
One of the first things that catches your eyes when you enter Nancy Lacey’s studio is the dozens of glass rods in brilliant shades of color. There are not just blue rods; there are light blue, dark blue, light periwinkle, and dark periwinkle. There are variations of pink, red, and yellow rods and even glass rods in stunning shades of white.
Clustered in vases, or organized in their separate cubbyholes, the glass rods catch the light that pours through the windows of Nancy’s office studio. These are the simple materials Nancy uses to make beautiful works of art that she then transforms into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.
Her particular art form is called lampworking and dates back centuries. In ancient times, an artisan would use flame from an oil lamp, and blow air into the flame through a pipe to melt and shape the glass. Today, it’s referred to as flame-working or torch-working, since the oil-fueled lamps have been replaced with a torch that either uses propane or natural gas for the fuel, and air or pure oxygen as the oxidizer.
Nancy says she’s always been interested in different forms of art.
Her home is a testament to her creative artistic flair. From the window treatments to the creatively painted rooms, you can see her touch throughout her house. She took up artistic painting for a while and then, out of curiosity, took a class four years ago in lampworking and was immed-
“I love the idea of taking a solid piece of glass, changing it to its molten state, forming it around and then making it into something really beautiful and then it goes back to its solid state,” says Nancy, “It’s like molding with clay and painting all in one. It’s definitely a form of creative self-expression.”
Your eye travels from the stick-straight glass rods to a bowl filled with hundreds of multi-colored glass beads that she’s already made, and you begin to wonder how this amazing transformation takes place.
“I don’t always start out with a specific idea in mind,” Nancy adds. “I’m inspired by a lot of things around me. It can be anything from the colors used in a catalog for bedding or clothes, to other pieces of art I’ve seen. But mainly I’m inspired by the colors right outside my window.”
Nancy creates each bead from the variety of colored glass rods in her collection. She orders her glass from companies in Italy and Germany. When selecting a particular rod, she takes into consideration what other pieces of glass will be compatible in terms of heat expansion.
Incompatible pieces can crack when heated or sometimes the colors can react with each other when melted together. After selecting her glass rods she slowly introduces them into the gas flame so the pieces won’t shatter from the heat shock. While the glass is melting she gradually merges it with other pieces, while shaping it with various tools. All the glass pieces involved must be kept at a constant similar temperature to prevent them from shattering.
“I never know what shape I’m going to make out of the glass until I start working with it,” she says. “I usually free-form my beads, but I have recently started using molds to help create the pieces.”
As the piece heats up in the flame, the color changes as well as the shape, as she constantly turns it over. At one point she takes the rod and starts pulling it like a piece of taffy, elongating the melting glass into the shape she desires.
“This is called pulling stringer. When (you) first start making a bead, I know I’m going to do some kind of decorative element, and whenever you make anything decorative, you’re going to have to use a real small piece of glass, so you have to pull it into a thin stringer,” says Nancy, “I heat up a glass ball real slowly, and once I get the glass blob the size like I want I grab it with my tweezers and slowly pull. Within seconds it will just harden right there. Now I can use that for decorating. And I’ll do that with all of the colors that I’m using.”
She decided that with the bead she was working on she wanted to add a vine-like touch to it. She accomplished this by taking a color glass rod and swirling it into the glass bead with one hand while turning the bead with the other. It’s a meticulous procedure that requires steady hands.
Now the bead is ready to be put into the oven at 950 to 970 degrees for 45 minutes to finish the heating process. Afterward, the bead will remain in oven for 8-10 hours, cooling down to room temperature so it won’t shatter or crack. A bead creation takes a full day from start to finish. Although Nancy can make several beads a day, the whole process is time consuming.
Still, she loves what she does.
“My favorite time to work is at night; the studio is cooler. I put music on and can work for several hours. When I leave for the night, the beads will be in the oven, ready for me to put into jewelry by tomorrow,” Nancy adds. “If I’m on a roll making jewelry, I’ll spend several weeks doing nothing but just making beads. And then when the mood strikes me, I’ll sit down sometime later and put
them together. That’s the really the fun part.”
In the four years since she began lampworking, she’s seen it go from just being a hobby, to becoming a business.
“When I first started I was afraid of even working with the torch,” say says, “When I became more comfortable with the flame, that’s when I started getting more creative with my work. Now it’s become an art form I love. I continue to take more classes because I keep learning new techniques which inspire me to become even more creative with the pieces I make.”
Nancy has entered several state art shows, which not only brings her more recognition in this competitive art field, but also exposes her to more customers. Although she says Christmas is her busiest season, she stays busy all year long, keeping the flame burning bright.
Glass Art Jewelry