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Jo Ludwig’s Dichroic Glass Bowls

By Robert Amos December 8, 2003

| Jo Ludwig’s Dichroic Glass Bowls on show at The Avenue Gallery2184 Oak Bay AvenueVictoria, B.C. (598-2184) (250-384-4101) In what passes for Victoria’s industrial area, Jo Ludwig’s tiny workshop occupies a few square feet at the back of the second floor in a nondescript building. Behind his studio door is a room stacked with sheets of coloured glass, rigged with ingenious machinery and abounding with work-in-progress. This is the headquarters of Kiln Art Glass Studio. Jo’s wife Peggy makes fused glass earrings here, and Jo creates dazzling little bowls. This is not a 'hot glass shop' like Starfish Glass, where molten glass is kept liquid at 1500 degress Celcius and blown into many forms. Nor is this a place for casting glass. At Kiln Art Glass, glass is made soft, fused into sheets and then slumped over molds. It’s an old tradition, used by the Romans and Egyptians, and is not unknown in the current art glass world - Mel Munsen of Esquimalt is a world-famous practitioner of the technique. In the time-honoured way, Jo Ludwig begins by creating a mosaic of glass pieces. This might be a multi-coloured checkerboard, or an irregular pattern of smashed glass reassembled with colours in the cracks. His signature pieces are the tiny bowls made from laminates of sheets of coloured glass. Nestled into the inner surface of each is gleaming dichroic glass. "Dichroic" is defined as the property of having more than one color, especially when viewed from different angles. Dichroic glass is a high-tech spin-off of the space industry. Thin layers of metallic oxides, such as titanium, silicon, and magnesium are deposited upon the surface of the glass in a high temperature, vacuum furnace. Ludwig buys this material, and it’s very expensive. Dichroic coatings transmit certain wavelengths of light, while reflecting others, thus creating an interference-effect similar to the iridescence observed in fire opals, dragonfly wings and hummingbird feathers.The transmitted color is different than the reflected color, and a third color is produced by viewing the dichroic piece at a 45 degree angle.The resulting colors are pure, saturated, single wavelengths of light, that appear to originate from within the dichroic piece. In conversation, I learned a bit about Ludgwig’s background. He emigrated from South Africa in 1977 and arrived in Edmonton. There he made his home. As well as taking eight years of university training in philosophy, he also worked as a heavy equipment mechanic. In 1996 he was introduced to working with glass at a hobby-level workshop. He’s never looked back. Considering that there are shards of broken glass everywhere, I asked if he went through a lot of band-aids. With a chuckle, the burly artist plunged his bare hands deep into a bin of glass scraps and rummaged around a bit as if he was looking for something. Handling glass is a knack that person develops, apparently. Ludwig’s finished products are things of beauty, but the labour involved in the process is less glamourous. After the glass sheets are cut into shape, the separate components are fused in an electric kiln. These layered blanks are next ground against a diamond disk which is lubricated with water provided by an aquarium pump. A home made 'syphon type' sand-blasting booth stands ready next to it on the bench. While much is achieved with simple glass cutting aparatus, Ludwig is clearly delighted with his radial drill press and small machining lathe. Everywhere one looks, the machinist’s attitude is evident. Slumping glass is more complex that I had imagined. Glass has its own ways which will not be gainsaid.The laminates melt in different manners, advancing or receding according to size. Ludwig carefully plans the melting process in a series of incremental stages, as the glass is formed over molds of increasing convexity. The artist’s ingenuity is put to use finding ready-made forms for molds - stainless steel ladles, goblets, ice cream dishes, salad bowls... The laminated glass hemispheres which result from all this melting in the kiln are finished in many ways. Rim and base may be ground flat. Glass feet are often affixed. Extra decorative bits, which Ludwig calls 'nubbies', are flamed into place. Finally, each piece is signed and numbered, becoming part of series which now includes more than 400 members. With some justification, the artist has named these creations 'tobs' - things of beauty. Ludwig’s creations are eye-catching. I first discovered their radiant presence at the Art Gallery’s Eye Candy exhibit two years ago. In fact, 'eye candy' is as good a description as you could make for them. They’ve won awards over many years at the Sooke Fine Art show. Fran Willis and West End Gallery have both exhibited Ludwig’s work and he is represented on Vancouver’s Granville Island and at Sandra Ainsley’s gallery of art glass in Toronto. From it’s beginning a year ago, the Avenue Gallery has brought Ludwig’s work to the fore and encouraged him. They have a few 'tobs' on hand already, and on December 4 he will present 60 new works These little treasures are a lovely way to celebrate 'the season of light'. ___________________________________________Copyright © 2003 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at www.robertamos.com