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February 2013

Protection and Prosperity

My giant totem is finished and installed!!!

I had the idea for a large totem a couple of years ago.  I imagined a giant, 20 foot, totem erected in the middle of my town.  I have not figured out, yet, how to get the county to go for that idea.  Then, last summer I started making some smaller, table top size totems.  You can see one of them in a blog post here.  Mark had some fabulous ideas on how to finish them and between us, we have created some great pieces. Then, in the fall, he said- we need a big totem for our house.  I hemmed and hawed thinking it would be such an enormous project.

But, in October we went up to lumber yard and chose our log.  We looked at a lot of wood, but settled on a piece that had been sitting, drying flat in a stack of logs for a while.  It is about 14" diameter and 9 feet tall.  We had the yard cut a flat side which turned out to be about 11" across on one side of the log.  We got it home and there it sat in our side yard for a couple of month.  Fall time is very busy with shows for me so I didn't have the time to work on it, but we made an outline pattern so that when my shows were done, I could start drawing the animals.

In mid December I finally had time to start.  I chose the animals and started drawing and then just dove in and cut the glass.  It took 2 firings per piece and a lot of time in painting and frit work to finish each section.  The coyote is cut in 3 parts, there is 1 part for each of the skunk and the raccon, and the eagle has the body section, the head section and then 8 seperate pieces of glass for each wing.  Plus there are 4 divider sections between the animals and below the coyote. I worked on it pretty solid and finally finished all of the glass pieces a couple of weeks ago.

The weather has been cooperating fairly well this year with small snow storms in between long sections of warmer weather.  I was able to glue the glass onto the wood pole during a bout of 50 degree weather.  That is still fairly cold for my adhesive, but we set it out in the sun during the day and let is set for about 10 days to ensure curing. The head and wings are mounted on custom cut 1/4" plexiglass.  We mounted the hardware to the plexi and then glued the glass to the plexi and brought them into the house to cure.

The animals on this totem are a coyote holding a fish which symbolizes prosperity, a raccoon holding a pinecone which symbolizes curiosity, a skunk holding an acorn with symbolizes protection and a big, bold eagle which symbolizes creativity.  Each of these animals was chosen because they are very common around our home in the San Bernardino mountains and they impart feelings that I wanted associated with our home.

I am so happy with the finished product.  And the fact that installation went so smoothly.  This was my first attempt at anything so large and it is only installed at my home, but I am still so proud of myself and my husband for what we accomplished.

Here are some photos of the process of installation and the final result.





"Protection and Prosperity Totem" 2013 copyright, Cheryl Chapman
Finished size - 10 ft tall, Wingspan of 5 ft wide. 


Glass is a funny thing.  One piece can look just like another - flat, clear, same thickness - and they may still be as different as a cat and a cow.  It's all in the "Coefficient Of Expansion" or COE.  The majority of glass artists who are firing (fusing) their glass in a kiln are the happy recipients of years of trial and error by artists and glass companies who painstakingly developed ranges of glass with the same COE. 

I personally use a line of glass made by Spectrum Glass Co. and another by Uroboros Glass Co. that all have the COE number of 96.  Now, having the same COE means that this glass will expand and contract in the heating and cooling processes of the kiln at the same rate (or close enough to not cause stress on the glass - assuming the artist takes the proper precautions with their time and temperature rates).

The line of glass paints that I use has a very wide range of compatibility due to the fact that it is so finely ground that it can move more freely as the glass expands and contracts.  However - I have found it's breaking point.  Literally.

I am always coming up with new ideas to make miniature glass paintings to be used in jewelry pieces.  The challenge is that I would like to make the glass round or oval, but cutting those pieces is more difficult and making them the exact shape and size to fit into a pre-made metal bezel is super difficult.  That is because when the glass heats and cools it generally gets smaller and I have yet to perfect the knowledge of what that size difference will be.

I found a company that sells small domed glass pieces that are meant to be used as covers over miniature paper pictures for jewelry.  I thought "Aha".  I could paint on the flat sides of those and then mount them in the bezel settings.  However, these domed glass pieces are not made of "tested compatible" glass and are actually very hard glass compared to that which is usually used in fusing.

I chose 4 pieces and successfully painted and fired the lining and shading stages of my black work. I was thrilled.  Then, I added the paint colors.  Huge failure.  The COE is too far off to do my usual method of painting.  The paint was too thick.

4 Failures of Compatibility:

The sparkling effect you see is the crazing or cracking where the paint and glass meet.  Almost looks pretty, but it's definitely not right.




In this last image, you can actually see where a piece of the painted glass chipped off of the glass piece.


So, back to the drawing board - I knew that the first two paint steps worked just fine, but they use thinner layers of paint.  I tried another piece and fired the lining and shading again with no issues, then mixed up some paint with my clove oil (I usually use water for this step) and then painted the colors on in thin layers.  I crossed my fingers and into the kiln it went again.

This, apparently, is the way to go.  The colors are brilliant and there is no crazing between the paint and glass.  Yay!  


"The Power of Three"

This one is mounted in an antiqued silver bezel with a 24" chain.  The antiqueing process brought out some copper color in the metal which is just the right touch for this painted scene.  It's available in my Etsy store now and there will be more to come.