Euro­pean tra­di­tion in Ste. Ed­widge

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Ste.ed­widge

Ioften­won­dered why some­one would need such a large amount of propane when I used to drive by a prop­erty in Ste.ed­widge that had a huge tank on the front lawn. I cer­tainly would never have guessed it was needed to fuel the glass fur­naces of a mas­ter

Czech glass blower, Pavel Ca­jthaml. Let’s just say that with one fur­nace alone needed to reach 2350 de­grees Fahren­heit to melt a good quan­tity of glass, Mr. Ca­jthaml is pleased the price of propane has come down.

Pavel Ca­jthaml grew up in the for­mer coun­try of Cze­choslo­vakia, a na­tion known for its ex­quis­ite glass work. Asked how he chose his pro­fes­sion, he com­mented: “I was born in Novy Bor, the City of Glass. With 20,000 peo­ple around me mak­ing glass, it was easy to choose.” Trained in the tra­di­tional Cze­choslo­vakian hot glass tech­nique at pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions, Pavel worked all over Europe, first in pro­duc­tion glass and them with de­sign­ers as he ex­celled at his craft, be­fore mov­ing to Mon­treal in 2002. His mar­riage to a Town­ship­per then brought him out to Ste. Ed­widge, in 2006, where he built the glass stu­dio that I vis­ited last Fri­day.

Cold as it was out­side, with sev­eral fur­naces in op­er­a­tion the stu­dio was hot. “In the sum­mer we start work at five in the morn­ing and fin­ish early,” ex­plained the artist. A typ­i­cal day in a glass stu­dio ac­tu­ally be­gins the night be­fore. “We first melt the glass overnight in the cru­cible so it’s ready for the morn­ing.” A com­puter, just about the only tool used in the process that wasn’t also used thou­sands of years ago to make glass, mon­i­tors the tem­per­a­ture overnight, melt­ing the large quan­tity of spe­cial glass to over 2000 de­grees Fahren­heit. “If the glass is nice when you look at it in the morn­ing, you get right to work.”

When I vis­ited the stu­dio, Mr. Ca­jthaml and two glass work­ers were work­ing con­tin­u­ously to keep up with their pro­duc­tion sched­ule of the day: one hun­dred and twenty glass awards for a cor­po­rate client, sev­eral large fu­ne­real urns and a twenty inch high glass boat. “Be­cause the glass is re­ally hot in the morn­ing we start by mak­ing the small pieces,” said Pavel with a long skinny me­tal pipe in his hand, one cho­sen from a care­ful row of dif­fer­ent sized ‘blow­pipes’ and ‘pun­ties’. He deftly stuck his pipe into the molten glass to ‘grab’ some on the end, then stuck it into a small bowl of coloured glass grains, a quick puff of air in the end of the tube, then he brought it to the glass blow­ing bench where he sat and rolled the pipe on the me­tal bars as he worked the shape of molten glass with a thick pad of wet news­pa­per and then with the glass tweezers. Soon there was a beau­ti­ful glass flame at the end of the pipe. An as­sis­tant cracked the quickly hard­en­ing flame off the pipe per­fectly, set­ting it in the warm­ing oven to cool down slowly. “If glass isn’t cooled prop­erly it can crack a month af­ter it was made, some­times while it is just sit­ting on a shelf, or when some­one whis­tles!”

Once the smaller glass pieces are all made, the team moves on to the glass urns; much larger pieces that re­quire even more skill and crafts­man­ship. “A glass stu­dio is more ef­fi­cient when there are a few peo­ple work­ing to­gether,” men­tions Pavel as he gath­ers glass, in stages, on the end of a big­ger pipe while an as­sis­tant lays out pieces of gold leaf for him to roll the dark glass in be­tween lay­ers. Once enough glass is on the end, he shapes the bulb of glass as his helper blows air down the pipe. In sec­onds the urn be­gins to take shape. An as­sis­tant re­trieves a wooden mold which has been soak­ing in a bucket of water and opens it up for the final shap­ing of the urn. Pavel climbs on a stool and care­fully po­si­tions the urn, still at­tached to the blow­pipe, be­tween the mold halves. His as­sis­tant closes the mold slowly on the hot glass cre­at­ing an in­stant cloud of va­por as the hot glass comes in con­tact with the wet wood. When he moves his feet a cer­tain way, the as­sis­tant knows it’s time to re­lease the mold. “This process is the same as it was five thou­sand years ago. We just have bet­ter colours and bet­ter ways to con­trol the tem­per­a­tures.”

Glass is a beau­ti­ful ma­te­rial, once re­served only for kings and queens, but it’s not easy to work with. “The glass is so frag­ile it is easy to make mis­takes. Ev­ery step in the process must be per­fect. Then you have a beau­ti­ful fin­ished piece, you pass it to your as­sis­tant, and she drops it!” joked Mr. Ca­jthaml.

If you’ve seen the re­cently re­leased movie “Mir­ror Mir­ror” which was shot in Mon­treal, then you’ve al­ready seen one ex­am­ple of Mr. Ca­jthaml’s fine crafts­man­ship: he cre­ated the large glass egg in the movie. “I made the egg for the movie then went on va­ca­tion to the Czech Repub­lic. Then they called me while I was there and wanted a new egg. I had to make it in a few days and drive it to the air­port!”

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Pavel Ca­jthaml trans­forms a large ball of molten glass at­tached to a blow­pipe into an urn.

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