If the works of Dale Chihuly, Harvey Littleton, and Toots Zynsky demonstrate what is possible when you allow spontaneity to influence the ultimate form of a work in glass, the works of Jon Kuhn demonstrate the exact opposite. Kuhn's works are painstakingly precise and take several months to create from start to finish. There is no "controlled accident" here. (Jon has assistants who work on different phases of the works, such as core construction and polishing, so there are quite a few works in progress at any given time.)

I first saw one of Jon Kuhn's works at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, several years ago. At the time, I remember not being able to figure out how he managed to embed hundreds of small colored blocks of glass inside a large, almost perfectly clear block of glass. The effect was amazing.

Earlier in 1999, after I began to research glass in earnest, I saw one of Kuhn's works on the Internet. When I discovered that Kuhn was based in North Carolina, I asked Jerald Melberg if he happened to have any of Kuhn's works available. As it happened, he did... I finally got to examine a Kuhn up close. I was amazed at the geometric perfection demonstrated in Kuhn's works. Although I liked the works that Jerald had available, I decided that when the time came for me to add a Kuhn to my collection, I had particular specifications in mind.

Just before Thanksgiving week, 1999, I realized that I would be traveling through Winston-Salem. It seemed like a good time to visit Kuhn, so I asked Jerald if he could arrange for me to be able to visit Kuhn's studio. Jerald made the necessary arrangements, and I got a chance to visit Kuhn on the day before Thanksgiving. Jon showed me around his studio, and gave me an explanation of how his works are created... here's a simplified version, based on what I remember:

  • First, blocks of colored glass are fused together to create long strips of glass containing multiple colors. Strips may contain multi-colored segments... these are known as Matisse glass. Strips may also contain gold or silver leaf.
  • The strips are ground and polished to exact specifications.
  • Multiple strips are laminated together with spacer strips of clear glass in between. Once laminated, the strips are cut, reground, and repolished.
  • These steps are repeated a few times, resulting in a cube known as the core. The process of building the core can take months of work. (Since this takes so much effort, the final cost of a work depends more on the complexity of its core, or cores, than it does on the work's ultimate size.)
  • Once the core is complete, it is ground and polished one last time to ensure that its measurements are all precise to within one ten-thousandth (0.0001) of an inch.
  • Then, the core is surrounded by plates of lead-fluoride glass. These panes are laminated to each other and to the core, so that the result is a solid cube of glass with absolutely no gaps or cavities inside. Because of the extreme precision of all of the measurements, the seams inside the work are almost imperceptible.
  • The cube is ground and polished again, its edges beveled and polished, and everything checked to make sure that it is a perfect cube.
  • Finally, one corner of the cube is fitted into a precision mount attached to a nearly frictionless bearing, also made at Jon's studio. This allows the cube to spin freely about its central axis (from one corner through the center and the opposite corner).
Amazingly, the lead-fluoride glass which makes up the bulk of this work is 48% lead by volume... yet, the glass is perfectly clear. Jon explained that this has do with the crystalline structure of the glass. One benefit of this is that light travelling through the cube follows specific paths, so that the refractive effect is pronounced. When viewing this work, the inner surface may act like a mirror, depending on how the light strikes it, showing you a reflection of the core rather than whatever is on the other side of the cube.

When I told Jon what specifications I wanted for my cube, he said, "I think we've got just what you're looking for." And he did: I wanted a cube 8" on a side with a core consisting mostly of blues... I wanted as many shades of blue as possible, and not much else. This work is an 8 3/4" cube whose core contains mostly blue, along with a smattering of red, silver leaf, and gold leaf. If Jon had not had this particular work already in development, it would have taken about six months to produce the kind of work that I wanted... so I was pretty lucky that he had it. This work was completed shortly before Christmas 1999.

I have always been a bit of a perfectionist (those of you who are sniggering right now, knock it off!), so this work really appeals to me... its geometric perfection, along with the simplicity/complexity of its core, make Winds So Blue one of my favorite works of art. The way that it catches the light is simply amazing.

The third picture of this work was taken shortly before Thanksgiving 1999 at Jon's studio, while the work was being polished.

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Postscript: The original name of this work was Wind Over Camo, but Jon renamed it before I received it. Thanks to Mary Melberg for her suggestion of the phrase "controlled accident"... that's exactly what this work isn't.