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Fused glass sculpture, 'Verve,' nears completion in FGCU's Marieb Hall

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Work continues inside FGCU's Marieb Hall as glass sculptor Michele Gutlove and her installation team work to complete Verve in time for the start of classes on Monday, January 6. When completed, the hanging fused glass sculpture will replicate the nuclei and dendrites of a neuron.

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There exist three traditional methods for creating art glass. The first is referred to as cold glass, of which stained glass is the chief example. Stained glass is formed by cutting and assembling pieces of cold glass together with strips of metal caning. Hot or blown glass is formed from molten glass, which is manipulated as it cools and becomes more viscous. Fused or kiln-formed glass is formed from cold glass that is manipulated as it heats up and becomes less viscous. But whereas hot or blown glass is heated to temperatures exceeding 2100 degrees Farenheit, the temperature of fused glass never exceeds 1700 degrees, prompting some to refer to it as warm glass.

Michele Gutlove works in the medium of fused or warm glass.

“My glass art works are composed of fragments or ribbons of cut glass,” she explains. They are fired multiple times, which each being slowly annealed over a period of hours or even days depending on the size, shape and complexity of the piece. “I often layer thousands of elements of transparent, iridescent and/or dichoic glass and fuse them together at temperatures between 1450-1700 degrees Farenheit until they are fully fused into a smooth sheet.” Afterward, additional layers of glass may be “tack fused” onto the smooth sheet in a slightly cooler firing (1300-1425 degrees). “These tack-fused elements add texture, enhancing the diversity of reflections when seen from different angles.”

But she’s far from done. Gutlove then gently and slowly bends the glass into sculptural forms in yet another, even cooler (1175-1275 degree) firing. “In nature, no two neurons are exactly the same,” the artist observes. “Similarly, each of the pieces of sculptural glass that I create are unique in color and form” as each is individually hand-crafted.

The glass in Verve is coated with dichroic crystals. This step is farmed out to a firm in California, which grows the crystals they use. In all, 12 boxes were required to ship the glass Gutlove fired for Verve. Each piece had to be individually sheathed in bubble wrap, and each box was placed in a larger box that contained a bubble wrap buffer in case the outer box was bumped, crushed or otherwise damaged.

"None of the 400+ pieces I sent to California was broken," Gutlove proudly proclaims. And only a few pieces were broken in transit from California to Marieb Hall. But just in case, Gutlove makes about 10 percent more glass than she intends to use so that she has replacement parts in case of breakage.

The completed sculptural glass will hold its finished shape for thousands of years. “Like our planet, each piece of glass comes from a process of immense transformative heat followed by cooling,” Michele observes. “A combination of art and science, fused glass is the ideal material for this project.”

Verve is part of the Florida Art in Public Buildings program, an initiative started in 1979 pursuant to section 255.043 of the Florida Statutes, which earmarks one-half of one percent of the amount the legislature appropriates for the construction of state buildings for the acquisition of public artworks. Florida Gulf Coast University has nearly 100 works of art in its public art collection.

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