News / 

Glass pieces combine science and art

Save Story
Leer en espaƱol

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

PHILADELPHIA - You can't carve glass with a hammer and chisel.

So Christopher Ries, who carves 3,000-pound blocks of heavily leaded fiber-optic crystal lens glass the way other sculptors carve marble or granite, uses an array of high-tech tools, starting with a saw that uses a 550-foot continuous band of braided wire. The action of the saw, combined with the continuous, gentle abrasion of a silicon-carbide slurry, causes billions of micro-scratches to compound on each other to cut the glass.

That's only the beginning, of course. For the rest of the work - pieces take on average more than four months to complete - Ries has "an arsenal of diamond tools," ranging from a 3-horsepower diamond-rimmed cup grinder to an array of what are virtually dental tools.

Ries and his wife, Colleen, and their four children live on a 13-acre farm in Keelersburg, about a 15-minute drive from Tunkhannock, Pa. A masterfully restored barn houses a studio, gallery and guest quarters. In the studio, Ries and his assistants work on smaller pieces.

For the larger works, Ries does his carving where the glass is made, at Schott Glass Technologies in Duryea, outside Scranton, Pa. Ries has been Schott's artist in residence since 1986.

Ries grew up on a farm in Ohio, not far from Zanesville, once "the pottery capital of the world," where Weller and Roseville ware, among others, were manufactured. He took up ceramics in his teens, but his interest started shifting to glass while he was a student at Ohio State University, where he helped build the school's first glass hot shop. Even before graduation he was teaching classes in glassblowing. He did his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, where he was an assistant to Harvey Littleton, the founder, along with Dominick Labino, of the American studio glass movement.

Studio glass is not a manufactured product like what is made by Steuben, Waterford or Baccarat. Studio glass artists produce original, unique works whose creation the artist oversees from start to finish. But most studio glass is hot glass, either blown or molded. Ries works with cold glass, and his sculptures represent a unique combination of science and art. He is fully cognizant of what happens when light strikes glass.

"No one taught me this," he says. "When I first started, I carved every geometric form I could think of - spheres, cubes, rectangles, pyramids, obelisks. I ... realized, for instance, what happens on a 90-degree angle when two mirrors intersect. I kept looking and seeing and remembering. And now I can see these compositions in my mind's eye, because I understand what happens when these planes and curves come together."

A good, simple example is provided by one of his earlier works, "Sail, which is about 50 inches high and weighs slightly more than 400 pounds. Ries says "it shows what three surfaces can do when they reflect a corner off of each other. (The piece) separates light into various wavelengths and always has beautiful color bands in it."

Ries' knowledge of optics enables him to create what he calls "self-decorating forms," in which the pattern the viewer discerns within the piece results entirely from "the combination of curvatures, planes and color. ... Curving surfaces do different things than flat surfaces. They're lenses and (depending on their arc) they all either reduce, magnify or distort ... the rest of the form."

Things get really complex when a pattern is etched into the sculpture, as with "Wild Orchid. Here a simple floral design in the base becomes, through reflection, a triple pattern that is then refracted through the piece to form a genuine counterpoint of imagery. Even more striking is "Moonstone, a 385-pound piece of translucent blue crystal carved into an egg shape. An image of the moon is etched into the base, but projects from there to appear suspended at the top of the form.

The color and the angle of the light that strikes the forms at times make them seem scarcely stationary (the forms also project light onto the walls, creating an eerie effect of dancing color). That's why Ries places most of them on revolving pedestals. "There are certain angles at which you maximize the compositions," he explains, "so I make rotating turntable tops, because ... millisecond by millisecond as the piece revolves ... it changes."


(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

Most recent News stories


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast