A final piece and a cop-out

Ah well.

As I said in this month’s first post, this month’s challenge was Ruebezahl, and with 16 days spent behind the torch, you’d think it would be a minor thing to produce something worthwhile. Instead, I found myself in an environment I found so invigorating and inspiring, it allowed me to tackle something else, a sculpture for a quote that has ‘bothered’ me for nearly 20 years.

So, simply because I don’t want you to think I’ve been lazy, here’s my final piece from the Bild-Werk course, based on the Wittgenstein quote: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

"The limits of my language are the limits of my world" - Wittgenstein

"The limits of my language are the limits of my world" - Wittgenstein

…however, I also have something that I can…..very, very loosely, and in a majorly cop-out way, link to Ruebezahl…I called it ‘Fragile Force of Nature’.

Fragile Force of Nature

Fragile Force of Nature

We do have a topic for August, but I’ll leave it to Emma to introduce it :o )

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A god of glass

As seems often to be the way with slightly longer courses, while in Germany we were required to think about and produce a ‘final piece’… something with meaning, preferably mixed-media, using the techniques we learnt during the course. Since I needed to make something for this blog and (in all honesty) wanted to spend more time focussing on learning the new techniques than on making one special piece, I decided to go with a giant Rubezahl head.

Originally, this head was to have figures at its base, and a wooden arm. The idea was to show Rubezahl almost toying with the small figures working and living beneath him. However, as the weeks progressed I decided that, as Rubezahl was not really a Bavarian giant in any case (and we were in Bavaria), and as the scenes beneath the head were not pulling together as I’d have liked, I would need to have a rethink. At the time I was also struggling to control soft glass tubing, not an easy thing to master. It seemed to me that the god of glass was every bit as capricious as Rubezahl, with glassworkers subject to his every whim. One minute the glass is running like honey, behaving itself in the flame and blowing beautifully. The next, it spits and cracks, blows into one-sided, pregnant bubbles or boils in the flame. Like Rubezahl, the god of glass appears generous and open-hearted, but fickle and easily angered.

So, I made the head of a God of Glass. He is wooden, with glass eyes, nose and mouth. He has glassworkers heads for hair. The vessels that I made on the course  (but not shown here!) were arranged around him to contain offerings – of thanks for a really great course and of wishes to be able to continue and grow afterwards. I hope he was pleased.


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It’s July! And July is a very special month for both Emma and me, since we will be spending most of it in each other’s company, in Germany, taking part in a course led by Shane Fero, as part of the summer academy programme at Bildwerk Frauenau. Wow. That was a pretty long and convoluted sentence.

Anyway, I thought to honour our foray into foreign territory, I thought it might be time to veer away from the very well-known fairytales, although I’m sure we’ll return to them in future. For July, I suggested a figure which has been the subject of many fairytales, although few of them are known in the UK, as far as I know. This figure is…Rübezahl. Never heard of him? Let me explain.


When I was a child, there were many books floating around the house, but none influenced me as much as a giant book of fairy tales. More than a decade after I moved out, when I was pregnant, I asked my Mum whether I might take the book with me. On closer inspection, it’s nothing special – a Readers Digest edition, dated 1969, full of fairy tale classics, and the odd not-so-classic tale. As a child, I was mostly fascinated by the lesser-known stories – the international ones, and those of Rübezahl. Let me translate the half-page introduction to the four fairy tales in the book:

“Rübezahl is the Lord of the Giant Mountains. On the surface of the Earth, only a small part of land is his, his actual realm lies inside the mountains. He is Lord to the dwarves and earth spirits, who live underground and work in Rübezahl’s infinite treasure chambers. Every now and then, the mighty mountain spirit leaves his underground realm to explore the surface. He likes playing tricks on humans, and these tricks have made him famous.

You can never know in advance how Rübezahl may behave when you meet him, for he is moody and unpredictable. Often, he is mild and friendly, yet soon, he may be full of mockery and schadenfreude. He may appear as a charburner, a wanderer or a rider, and many stories are told of him…”


The stories in the book tell of a mighty Lord, I suppose, a minor pagan God, really, who is interested in humans in the same detached and slightly bemused way in which a human might wonder about a gnat. He is not nasty by nature, but impulsive and easily angered, a force of nature who controls all life and weather in the mountains that are his realm. There is a story of a poor mother of three gathering leaves for their goat. Rübezahl listens to her story (her husband leaves a lot to be desired), and decides to help her by turning the leaves she has taken home to gold during the night. Of course, the goat has already eaten them, and died, since Rübezahl never thought to warn the woman. Then he goes to find the husband to beat the proverbial out of him. In a different story, he loans a desperate man money. When he returns three years later with his wife and children, he cannot find the wood spirit, only his IOU, with the words ‘paid with thanks’ – the gratefulness he and his family have displayed over the three years was payment enough.


Rübezahl is a difficult character to explain – historically, he appears as early as 1561 on a map, the first story found dates to 1565.


To me, Rübezahl stands for violence and kindness, and forces of nature. He is as mighty as the weather, and about as un/predictable. And he’ll be our ‘man of July’!

I’m not 100% sure yet what I’ll be making, but I think I’m aiming for something organic, rustic and natural, something that could live in Rübezahl treasure chamber, maybe…we’ll see!

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A reply, and another situation vacant

First the reply:

Dear Sir,

I read with interest your advertisement for mice. I am only one mouse but I come from a large family and 5 of my brothers have also expressed a desire to respond to this post. As a family, we have a background in catering, so are very used to being around food that we are unable to eat. As you can see, we are also grey in colour but you will note the telltale white streaks that are an indication of our unusual ability to turn into white horses at a moments notice.

As one of the eldest in the family, I have a lot of experience of bringing up younger siblings that I feel would stand me in good stead when it comes to looking after our charge. I am used to picking things up after others, but as you may be aware, the items dropped may need to be small if dropped after midnight, as our animal-morphing powers are likely to fade after this time.


And now, another sit. vac.:

WANTED: Footman. Must be smartly dressed, polite and deferential. This is a temporary position, required only for as long as it takes to find the owner of a certain slipper. Work involves trying a glass slipper onto all the feet in the kingdom until a foot is found that will fit it. Applicants need to be able to cope with repetitive work and must have a sympathetic attitude with wide shoulders to cry on as several of the owners of the feet may be disappointed when they fail. A strong stomach and tough demeanour may also be of benefit, with some potential feet being from peasant or servant backgrounds and potentially unwashed for some considerable time. Unfortunately it is likely that many feet will need to be tried before a fit is found, so good stamina and patience are also desirable.

The patter of tiny feet


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Job Advert

Job advert

Six white mice. Must be able to work hard and be trustworthy. Job involves close contact with vegetables, which must not be consumed under any circumstances. Night shifts only. Ability to turn into white horse distinct advantage to the post. Must be team players, group applications preferred. Experience in harness-work preferred, although training will be given. Some basic care work required, customer is careless and sometimes prone to leaving things behind. Please note that this is a re-advertisement, previous applicants (including the three blind mice) need not re-apply.

Oh boy, am I last minute this month! This month is ‘chicken out’ month – I had sooo many clever ideas – I was going to use colour (yes! Colour! Me!), I was going to blow the pumpkin, and it was going to be large and magnificient. It was going to have six mice, and harnesses, and it would have some sort of motorised, mechanical way of moving it.

What can I say?

It’s a pumpkin.

And had I not accidentally attached the axle to the undercarriage, it would even move.


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Less than the sum of the parts

When I chose Cinderella, I found myself getting excited by all sorts of ideas. Moving glass figures, ugly sisters with Corpse Bride style faces, clocks, pumpkins and carriages… broomsticks and fires, dancehalls and winged creatures (a very early Greek version of the tale has an eagle snatching the sandal of Rhodopis while she bathes). I even thought of making glass slippers! The tale has any number of elements that I find inspiring – but I do think that taken as a whole, and particularly when retold by Perrault or Disney, the story is a little weak. A case of the whole being less than the sum of its parts.

The weekend before last,  Sabine and I both went to Shropshire to have fun playing with borosilicate glass at what will hopefully be the first of many Boro Bashes here in the UK. While we were there, we made a vessel with stopper – I made the pumpkin base, Sabine the beautiful glass feather topper.

Cinderella pumpkin vessel with feather

Having got home, I tried to repeat the vessel on my own torch. I opted for a mouse instead of the feather. Mice and pumpkin turned into horses and carriage, so the idea tied in with the theme. I am happy with the vessel I made and very happy with the mouse stopper, but like the fairytale, together they are just so much less than they promise when taken separately.

Borosilicate glass mouse and pumpkin vessel

Borosilicate glass mouse and pumpkin vessel

The bottle needs a much simpler stopper, and no mouse!

Perhaps the story needs a servant, a hero, an eagle and a sandal. No mice, carriages, pumpkins, fairy godmothers, slippers, balls, ballgowns, clocks at midnight, Buttons or ugly sisters.

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The elephant in the room

When Emma and I discussed Cinderella, interestingly, we bounced lots of ideas back and forth, but neither of us, as far as I remember, ever mentioned the elephant in the room. Now, here’s a fairy tale that actually features ‘glass’, in slipper form. And yet, the thought of making a glass slipper never occurred to me! Like Emma, I went straight for the movement, although my thoughts went more in the direction of a pumpkin carriage. I won’t have long to dedicate to this month’s challenge, and to be honest, I find Cinderella a bit sickly-sweet. My very, very first thought was to make an evil dove, which deliberately mis-sorted some grain, so that Cinderella never got to go to the ball in the first place. Really, I wish she’d just have grown a back bone and given back as good as she got…..but then, simply the idea of going to a fancy ball to mingle with royalty fills me with dread, and I’d have much rather stayed at home with a good book. So……..hmmmmm…….I have no idea as yet what I’ll produce this month, but I do have a couple of ideas!

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A Dance to the music of Time

And so to June, and Cinderella.

I have just bought a retro musical box from ebay, complete with dancing figurine. Anyone who knows me might be a little surprised by this, and even more surprised by my delighted reaction when it arrived. You could say that I’m not particularly girly, though this might be an understatement. I recently spent an evening making tiaras (yes, sparkly ones with pink and white crystals, lots of hearts and pretty things) with our local brownie pack. My children and many friends fell about in stitches at the very thought and I know that many of them reading this will be smiling all over again at the memory. This is for them:

Fluffy tiara

Fluffy princess tiara

And yet… I really did feel excited receiving this musical box. There is something just a little bit magical about turning the key, making the music play and watching the ballerina dance. I would like to believe that this has less to do with my inner princess and more to do with the ability to create music and movement using clockwork and pins. I have always  found movement fascinating, from the displays in the Science Museum that ran when a handle was turned or pulled through to wind-up toys and marbles. I love the kinetic work of  Bandhu Scott Dunham, particularly the marble runs.

The version of Cinderella that we mainly see these days has lots of movement potential, from the sweeping of Cinders’ broom to the rolling of the carriage, the dancing figures in the ballroom to the ticking of the clock. I’d like to use this month to play with movement and moving figures.

But.. to go back to that musical box.. Cinderella ends up as a princess. Beauty and grace win the day.  The whole story has been used so often as an excuse for pretty costumes, ballgowns, dainty shoes… and that just isn’t for me. I know also that for me to attempt anything that requires precision or a degree of accuracy in order to work is just not practical. Whatever I make will need to use movement in a non-technical sense. No 63 degree angles, no well-fitting joints and definitely no measuring! Motors are a possibility but I am also aware that it would be very easy to over-complicate. I think this could be quite a challenge.

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The Shadow of my Fears

Okay……….this was hard work – and actually, in more ways than one.

My initial idea seemed simple in principle, although I was never kidding myself that it would be simple in practice! What I wanted was a forest, or at least trees, casting the shadow of a wolf. Just finding an appropriate silhouette proved difficult, but after a long engagement with Google, it was taped to my studio wall. Next came the choice of base, thankfully, I’d recently found an aquatics centre with a choice of interesting pieces of wood. Then came…the playing. Understanding depth, understanding that the further away from the shadow, the fuzzier the shadow cast – that, again, seemed simple in principle, but fiendishly difficult in practice. The first tree took no less than four hours – then, it cracked off the punty and shattered on the concrete floor. It took me a week-end to pluck up the courage to start again. Working out which tree would be responsible for which ‘bit’ of wolf, tinkering, cursing, realising that I had neglected the depth in the trees, instead creating silhouettes. Realising that that was just plain lazy – and looked weird! Adding branches, not watching what I’m doing, branches colliding and snapping off…this was hard work.

But even more so, I found that the message of the sculpture became more and more important to me. And this is where I struggle with the idea of this being an ‘all things laid open’ blog. I too know a little girl who once met a monster in the woods. She fought, and got away. She grew up to be stronger for the experience, and has learnt to face the shadows of wolves, and to force herself to realise that, more often than not, they are only trees. Maybe Little Red Ridinghood learnt to appreciate her encounter with the wolf…who knows?

…This was a hard sculpture to do. Next month, I’ll take an easy option!!!

The Shadow of my Fears 1

The Shadow of my Fears 3

The Shadow of my Fears 2

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Oooh, Grandma…

Well, we all know how that one goes. “Oooh, grandma….what big eyes you have! ” If you are going to remember anything from Little Red Riding Hood, it is likely to be that line and those that follow. I am always a little impatient with the little girl at this point. I mean, a hairy wolf in grandma’s clothing isn’t exactly a disguise. Even with the bedcovers drawn up, any little girl with decent eyesight and half a brain cell should be able to tell the difference. I like Roald Dahl’s take on Little Red Riding Hood for this reason, as well as for turning Red Riding Hood from helpless little girl into feisty heroine.

This may all be a matter of perception and expectation. If Red Riding Hood was expecting to see her grandmother, perhaps she couldn’t see beyond the frills to the wolf inside.

Wolf in grandma's clothing

Wolf in grandma's clothing

In the same way, having made a pendant to illustrate this fairytale using an eye technique newly learnt from Christian Arnold of Nudibranch Art Glass, my other half couldn’t see a red hood at all, just a decorative eye with a red surround.

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood


It is possible that the grandmother’s hut was dark. Or that the wolf had used her perfume, further altering perception. Or that grandmother was hairy and hoary. However, I think that the most likely moral for this tale has to be…..

“should’ve gone to Specsavers!”


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