European tradition in 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!”
Pavel Cajthaml transforms a large ball of molten glass attached to a blowpipe into an urn.