Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, November 29, 2004

Kaua'i program recycles glass into works of art

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

AHUKINI, Kaua'i — The molten glass pours orange like lava, then cools to a honey-like color and finally back to the pale blue of the original product — recycled window glass.

Artist Kathy Cowan creates a bead from glass recycled from a wine bottle during a demonstration at the glassworking shop inside the Ahukini recycling center operated by Kaua'i Recycling for the Arts.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

A cluster of kids stand in awe, feeling the heat, watching the syrupy stuff twist and flow.

This glassworking shop — Kaua'i's best-equipped — is inside the county's Ahukini recycling center, a unique collaboration between recyclers and glass artists, who formed the nonprofit organization, Kaua'i Recycling for the Arts.

"The goal is to produce and promote recycled products," said Alison Fraley, Kaua'i County recycling coordinator.

As part of that goal, the county purchased glassworking equipment when it built the recycling center, and has contracted with the artists' organization to run it.

Fraley said that a requirement of one of the grants involved in the county's recycling program was to establish a demonstration project for using glass.

University of Hawai'i student Alan Ness pours molten glass into a sand mold of children's handprints. He is a visiting artist at Kaua'i Recycling for the Arts, a nonprofit organization.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

The glasswork facility opened in early November under the direction of glassworkers Kathy Cowan and Edward Steckley. One of their first projects has been to give community workshops.

Participants, which include school groups and adults, get to make something out of recycled glass. At a recent session, participants made little ornaments using bits of scrap wire and chunks of recycled glass that had been heated to lose their sharp edges and gain organic curves.

They watched as Cowan made glass beads out of strips of glass from an old wine bottle. They pressed their hands into a bed of sand and watched as visiting glassworker Alan Ness poured molten glass into the sand, creating molds of their handprints.

Steckley and Ness worked together to create freeform glass sculptures that twisted like a deer's horns.

Cowan said the nonprofit's staff hopes eventually to begin mass-producing products made from recycled glass. They might be paperweights; platters; soap dishes with a leaf pattern; wine bottles pressed flat into trays; or pieces of jewelry.

Glass worker Alan Ness, left, with Kathy Cowan and Edward Steckley, the executive directors of Kaua'i Recycling for the Arts.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

With the equipment at hand, they can also blow glass and create dense glass tiles. The facility has a furnace for melting glass, two "glory holes" for reheating glasswork while the artist is working with it and three annealing ovens for letting glass pieces slowly cool from the more than 2000-degree working temperatures.

If they don't cool slowly and evenly, larger pieces will shatter from internal stresses.

Cowan, who has been doing art in glass for 24 years and with molten glass for 14 years, said the workers are still learning about the qualities of the various kinds of recycled glass.

One early discovery: Glass from most bottles and windows hardens more quickly than the art glass that artists are accustomed to.

"We don't have a lot of working time. We would need to add soda ash and borax to make it flow better and have more working time," she said.

Recently, the furnace was filled with a molten batch of what had been window glass.

"This is actually some of the best recycled glass. It has a nice clear quality with a blue hue," Cowan said.

Most of the tons of glass the county collects for recycling is now used for low-value uses, like filling trenches dug for utility lines and pipes.

Fraley said she doesn't expect the glassworking shop to use up more than a fraction of the available glass in the recycling program, but she and Cowan said that part of the idea is to send a message to the public.

"We're hoping to inspire people to think alternatively about throwing things away," Cowan said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.