|Kim Webster, The Glass Gardener||
After hours of squeezing magic sculpt over every surface of the peacock body, waiting for it to harden and then making a trap-door for the bird's belly (to hide the electronics), here he is, almost completely encased... and naked as the day he was born! (Although I'm not sure when exactly that is or will be???)
And he's cheeky too!
Once I test the head and a feather, I repair to the living room (it's getting dark) and start to lay out the tiny mosaic tiles to figure out at pattern for fan-tail portion. After almost wiping out all my efforts, Barry points out that I have set up shop right behind our front door. Oops. I sidle things over and start to read about mixing thin-set. We roll back the rug, cover the floor in paper and bring the bird inside. Up to the wee hours again as we mix more magic sculpt and finish covering the remaining bits of the back and neck. Of course, it is taking longer than I think!!! We fit and re-fit the slots for the back tail feathers and try to make the transition area to hold them look as natural as possible.
Almost ready for the tiles!!!
I wake up early to confirm my inkling from late last night. Barry and I decide that the fiberglass is too flexible to hold the mosaic and grout without risk of cracking in transit. So there will be no peacock for the opening on Thursday night - but it's not too late to get 'er done before we leave for England on Sunday night, I figure. So Barry dons latex gloves and starts to mix the two parts of the magic sculpt while I apply it to the structure. Painstaking work, but nice to be in the sunshine (until it gets too hot and Barry sets me up with a camera flag on a grip stand for shade). I'm reminded of my childhood working with modeling clay from Riley's Hobby Shop in Hamilton Ontario and a photo my Mom took with her trademark finger in the frame!
We work until dark, but run out of Magic Sculpt to finish the job. Good thing Douglas and Sturgess is open early tomorrow...
Okay. 5 days to go until the opening. I've gotten the feather structure attached and chopped off some of the peacock's butt with the bolt cutters. Dear Patty - on hold for several days now - comes over to examine progress and help with the fibre glass coating that will surround the armature and hopefully be strong enough to support the mosaic and grout... but I progress faster in my mind than in reality! Here's how it goes: both accomplished seamstresses (as well as glassblowers), but with no experience at applying fiberglass mesh, we take the slippery fabric , drape it onto the armature and decide on our cut lines. We end up with about 8 pieces all marked. I mix what turns out to be way too much epoxy resin and we start applying it to the mesh on the back of the bird. It is goopy, smelly stuff and the fibre of the mesh have a tendency to peel off and get stuck to the brushes. Somehow we get most of the bird covered but then suddenly the epoxy hardens in the bucket with the brush still in it. Completely stiff. I mix more (but more conservative in quantity this time) and we manage to get the whole structure covered by propping the neck of the bird onto a propane tank while we apply epoxy to his bottom parts and avoid some disadvantageous gravitational pull. Now we have to wait til the 'morrow to see if this is going to work as a substructure. Then there will be 4 days til opening. I'm beginning to prepare and take account: two days to get the mosaic on and one day to grout plus an overnight to dry and then install the afternoon of the opening. There might be just enough time...
With the show all set up at Filoli (save for the peacock), I breathe a sigh of relief... but not for long! I've got to get cracking on the peacock! Tired all day after yesterday's installation and a late night in the studio making a structure for the feathers, I have a late afternoon nap and then wake up with a start! If I'm going to get the fibre glass skin on in time to do the mosaic, then I have to tackle attaching the feather structure tonight! It is cold and darkening. And then, just as I think I'll go out and work under the floodlight in the back of our house, I feel the sprinkling of rain! Rain! It never rains at this time of the year here! Alas though, now there's nothing for it but to move the mighty bird inside! Barry rolls back the living room rug, we put down a drop cloth and set the bird on its newly rusting feet right in front of the couch. Barry secures the feather structure to the back of the bird with a furniture clamp that is just barely big enough, and away I go with Magic Sculpt hoping that all the joins will hold. (They will. They have to!) The resin material (Magic Sculpt) will harden overnight, so I can test it tomorrow. Good thing all the glass parts are blown and ready to go, because this structure is taking forever! I still haven't gotten to the fibre glass.
After trips to Ace Hardware and Douglas and Sturgess Sculpture supply, I feel today is the day to get the structure covered in wire in preparation to get a fiberglass coating on the bird and then on to the mosaic. But the chicken wire is awkward and man, can it dig into your skin. I don my gardening gloves and work all morning, but progress is slow. My blowing partner Patty comes over in the afternoon to lend a hand (thank goodness), but Barry gets news about having to work on Wednesday so we have to switch the big installation day to Monday (that's tomorrow). Eeek! I put Patty on painting the tops of the grapes that I still need to finish and Barry and I start to load the van with all of the pots, mounds and boxes of glass; brushing by the peacock structure on our patio as we go... Eventually, Barry leaves to watch the Warriors over dinner with our friends on Alameda, and Patty and I get to work on the peacock. We get half the bird covered - but my dreams of accomplishing the fiber-glass skin any time soon are thwarted. At dusk, I too feel the call of the Warriors, so Patty and I knock off for the day and I get to see our beloved Dubs (taped) womp Houston with a 40-point lead! As for the peacock, there's always another day (but just 11 days to the Filoli opening... yikes!)
?Well... a peacock can't stand up without some hefty feet, so I call up my friend (and metal artist) Melissa MacDonald to see if she can help. "A peacock? ... come on over tomorrow" says Melissa cheerfully. At 10 am I take an antihistamine (I've been sick for weeks with a respiratory thing), pack up the "structure" and set off for Berkeley and a Saturday morning with Melissa. In a couple of hours, two gnarly feet emerge from Melissa's welding table and they fit right into the hollow legs! I also ask for a collar to stabilize the neck and produce Barry's drawing on the back of an envelope. With all the right drill presses and metal saws at hand, Melissa makes this piece in a matter of 15 minutes. After a quick lunch at Tomate Cafe where we catch up on each other's news, I'm set (I think), to begin covering the structure with chicken wire (sorry, Percy) and eventually fiberglass (which I've never really worked with). And also, I'll need to make some sort of structure for the tail feathers to hover over the back of the erstwhile tomato-cage peacock body. Hmmm....
I met Percy the Peacock at Filoli in March. It was a windy, rainy day when only a few stalwart visitors to the garden were to be seen. (And a few artists ... our scout was scheduled that day, so there we were, wellies and raincoats - collars held against the wind, prepared to envision our art in better climes and more verdant too.) As I was preparing to leave, having gone back for one more look at where some glass grapes might best be dangled from copper vines yet to be fashioned, I came upon Percy. He was, for all his jewel-toned feathers, a bit bedraggled, and I was told the story about how Percy the peacock had moved up the road of his own volition, bringing with him his peahen, to make a home at Filoli. A fine choice for a wondrous creature such as he! Unfortunately his mate has disappeared, so Percy lives there alone (but among so many admirers, perhaps he doesn't notice!). After allowing me a few photos, Percy took his leave and I gasped as his tail dragged heavily through the puddles and muck. It was then that I started to imagine a "Pal for Percy."
Now blown glass peacock feathers are much different from the real thing. And if they are to light at night, even more so! Patty and I spent several days in the hot shop in April trying out different techniques and colours to get something that would be glorious enough, but also manageable on the end of a copper tube not meant for blowing glass, but necessary for me to use my tried and true techniques for lighting. Barry and I had just been to see the Bouquets to Art at the deYoung Museum, so I was inspired to make my peacock of modified glass flowers - this would give me some leeway on replicating a stunningly elegant bird and bring the project into my own sphere of garden worship. Or so I thought...
The feathers and head (also glass) were one thing, but the structure to hold them quite another! I was prepared to make a mosaic body but the weight of all the glass was going to require a reasonably strong inner structure - and that might require welding - and that might require some planning and drawings and measurements. But then I saw an old tomato cage behind my shed and the idea dawned... Two tomato cages joined at the wide end would make a torso and taper off at one end to be the tail and the other end the neck and voila! Our friends Jessica and Bruce were taking off on a year-long bike tour and Barry and I were to film their take-off from San Francisco and then meet them for breakfast (which ended up being lunch) in Half Moon Bay. We got up at 5 am that day and I threw the tomato cages and a bag full of bolt cutters, thin wire, pliers and duct tape into the back of the van - just in case we'd have some idle time to start on the structure. While Bruce and Jess pedaled southward, we swung by Filoli to measure an arbor for the grapes and by the time we got to Half Moon Bay, Bruce and Jess were just minutes away! So after lunch, while Jess and Bruce off-loaded half their gear into our car (they had to get much more realistic about how much weight they could carry), Barry and I got busy with the structure... right in the parking lot of our lunch rendez-vous! You just never know when or where the creative urge (and the urgency of an upcoming show) will strike! Here is the inner peacock so far ...
Kim is a glassblower, gardener and choral singer. She is a Canadian transplant, living happily in Oakland, CA with her husband Barry Stone.