Giving glass a voice

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A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament, believed Oscar Wilde.

Glass artist Di Tocker (right) explains the art of glass casting to Jenny Scown

After a visit to cast glass artist Di Tocker’s Ohaupo studio this week, Inspirit Gallery owner Jenny Scown and I (Forum moderator Philippa Stevenson) found ourselves in complete agreement with Wilde’s acute observation.

Tocker’s stunning glass figurines, exhibited at the Pencarrow Rd gallery, certainly take the eye. But we had no idea they also took so much hard graft.

Working with glass for more than a decade, Tocker is well used to visitors to her purpose-built workshop being astounded by the amount of steps in the casting process.

“I am inviting people to visit me in my studio to give people who are interested in cast glass art a total understanding of the complex processes – to give a voice to the glass,” she says.

What we found on our visit was a tidy, well organised workplace with spectacular views of Mt Pirongia just down the rise from Tocker’s family home in Ohaupo. Not that Tocker can have much time to admire the view as she works on the wax models or the other surprisingly numerous steps in the casting process to turn her creative ideas into polished, light refracting glass artworks.

This is no game for wimps. The results may be delicate but at times brute strength is called for along with some very grunty machinery. A diamond tipped circular saw and a noisy belt sander take up one corner of this “chick’s shed”, as Tocker calls it when she welcomes us in.

Another surprise – the firing of the glass in one of her two kilns can take up to a 23 days!

This is because the kiln must be heated slowly to ensure the mould is completely dry before the glass starts to pour, and cooled slowly to ensure the glass is annealed or toughened correctly.

Tocker demonstrated each step, carefully explaining why it had to be done just so to achieve the desired end result – perhaps a piece in a single colour of graduated intensity or perhaps one in several colours, maybe in clearly defined stripes or possibly with no perceptible line to show where one colour changes to another. It’s all in the order the glass is placed above the mould it will fill in the kiln.

Yet another surprise – terra cotta plant pots are the receptacles of choice for containing the hard pieces of glass or lead-crystal that melt in the heat of the kiln and flow down through the pot’s hole into the mould below.

It’s complicated – and fascinating. No wonder people from all over the country attend Tocker’s glass casting courses to unravel the mysteries or make their creativity crystal clear.

Attention to detail is everything and Tocker takes reams of notes about the carefully weighed plaster and silica, the timing of this, the shaping of that. It is all rather awe-inspiring and returning to Inspirit Gallery we look with renewed respect on Tocker’s artworks.

And we decide that you’d have to be extremely well organised and pay almost obsessive attention to detail to be a good cast glass artist. And that Oscar Wilde was right.

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