Josh Simpson: Each fragile planet a labor of love

Josh Simpson
Glassblower Josh Simpson in the Planet Room with Flow reporter Katie Martin. Simpson shows how cane, crushed, colored, glass, and other materials help create unique worlds suggesting what he calls plant and animal life forms and geographic and geologic formations.

Katie logoSHELBURNE—Josh Simpson, glassblower, designs and creates many pieces in his studio in Shelburne. He works with glass to create masterpieces. Among his masterpieces, which you can see at Salmon Falls Artisans Showroom and all around the world, are his glass planets.

He also makes vases, bowls, and other glass pieces.

He gave The BSE Flow a tour of his studio, which is in a red barn, in early December. It was cold outside, with snow on the ground, but inside the studio it was warm, with three furnaces glowing orange with incredibly hot glass. The handles of the furnaces were shaped like metal dragons.

Molten glass
Spinning and shaping a primordial world in motion…

In his “Planet Room,” Simpson works very hard making cane: colorful glass rods. Then he cuts these up into circles and melts them and gold foil and other crushed, colored glass into the planets so they look kind of like barnacles.

When Simpson is almost done with a globe he breaks it off of the rod that it’s on and uses a blowtorch to shape the planet into a sphere.

Blowing glass
Josh’s son Jamey blows into a long metal rod to help puff out the planet.

When it’s cool enough he sands off the bottom — because where the glass was connected to the rod it is razor-sharp.

Simpson says it takes longer to sand and polish the bottom of the globe than to make the whole thing. He uses a spinning disk that’s coated in diamond dust to do this part.

Then he etches his name into the bottom of the globe with a drill that makes a high-pitched sound like a dentist’s drill. Each one has to be perfect before he will sign it.

Katie reacts to the sudden loud whir of an etching device Josh will use to sign off on a planet for sale.
Katie reacts to the sudden loud whir of an etching device Josh will use to sign off on a planet for sale.

It takes many steps to smooth out what was once so sharp it could cut your finger into something as smooth as a pebble.

When asked what he would say to a kid who wants to become a glass artist, he said, “Take classes. Go to school. Get practice.”

Meeting Jamey's mom, NASA astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman, who says we’re on our way to sending explorers to Mars. “I won’t get there, but someone your age might. You might,” she tells Katie.
Meeting Jamey’s mom, NASA astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman, who says we’re on our way to sending explorers to Mars. “I won’t get there, but someone your age might. You might,” she tells Katie.

You have to be able to do many things at once. You have to work the molten glass in the furnace and keep it on the stick so it doesn’t fall off onto the ground, and all the while you have to shape it and watch out that you don’t burn yourself.

Glass becomes hard to work with if it is left out even though it takes so long to cool down, so it’s a pretty difficult job.

It’s no coincidence that Simpson makes glass planets and likes space. His wife, Catherine “Cady” Coleman, is an astronaut. She’s been to space several times and was on the International Space Station.

[Sidebar: Shaping Worlds, featuring Jamey Simpson]

Kara Bohonowicz photo
Kara Bohonowicz photo

With additional reporting by  Kara Bohonowicz. For more information, including videos, articles, exhibitions, and details of Josh Simpson’s globe-spanning Infinity Project, visit Josh Simpson Contemporary Glass at www.megaplanet.com.

 

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