The Peters family have run their business for three generations and greeted me very warmly. During my stay I dealt exclusively with Jan Peters who I saw almost every day and would always make time for me and check that I was doing okay. On my first day he gave me a tour of both their studios which were larger than anything I'd ever seen before. The kilns they have are huge. They have giant sandblasters and pretty much giant everything else. They have rooms where the glass is spray painted for big scale projects to produce a more even finish and ceramic ink jet printers that print designs directly only glass which can then be fired. It is a truly spectacular operation on a grand scale. There was nothing they could not do there, they wanted to be at the cutting edge of all new technology and the studios were simply overflowing with the most beautiful glass.
Jan told me that when the studio was first set up they did some of their own design work, but then decided that for the business they would do better by facilitating artists rather than competing with them. They therefore do not make any of their own work but artists from around the world come to their studios for their expertise and skill. The workforce had over sixty workers of whom the majority had been there since leaving school at which time they are taken on as apprentices. They always have several at one time, and over three years they go through each aspect of glass making absorbing everything until they are taken on in a specialist area after completion. Jan says this is a great way to build up the work force because when people go through the ranks like this you know everything they are capable of and almost everyone chooses to stay on with them.
The week I spent at Neuenbeken was under the guidance of Claus Happe an expert painter. Here I worked on a project to create sliding glass doors for a local bank that dealt exclusively with the church called Paderborn BKC. Each sheet of glass was approx. 2 meters by 1 meter and the work was done in a contemporary style. The design
(Fig.13. Example of some of the sliding doors placed against studio windows.)
was created by Tobias Krammerer and was based on a small image created with scrunched up coloured paper and paint which after being blown up to a huge scale was translated into the glass. I felt with this design that the real art had taken place in the translation and it was the master craftsmen at Peters that had turned this concept into something pleasing.
A lot of work went in to meticulously recreating what was essentially a very simple design. It was important that it completely represented the artists original impression, down to every dot. They did a lot of complicated work in order to make it look like they had just splattered some paint on, which they did not, but had I not seen the way they did do it I would certainly have thought they had. The first step in the process was to clean the very large sheets of glass which was done with a spray foam and a tissue, then gone over with white spirit. The blown up design is laid out on a large and extremely strong table which the glass is then slid on top of. Once they are lined up correctly clear grey vinyl is stretched out over it and the glass is coated. It is difficult getting vinyl on large sheets so there is a very specific way in which they do it.
First a sheet of vinyl is cut that matches the size of the glass. The protective paper is then pealed back at one end and about a foot of it is cut away. The sheet is laid on the glass and this strip of sticky vinyl is first folded back on itself (so the paper side is facing the glass and the sticky end that has been revealed is facing the sky) before being gingerly fingered down and flattened with a stiff plastic tool ( like a credit card but thicker). Once this is done the rest of the vinyl, and there is rather a lot of it (all of which still has the protective paper attached) is rolled very tightly up to the area that is stuck down. The tip of the paper is peeled away. While firmly keeping the roll tight to the glass it is unrolled by the pulling of the protective paper until the whole of the vinyl is stuck to the glass. It is then brushed back and forth with the stiff plastic from middle to edge making sure there are no air bubbles. The edges of the vinyl are trimmed back to the glass so there is no lip.
Once the vinyl is attached a pen is used to draw out some of the shapes below and then a scalpel is used to cut these away. The blades need changed very regularly so as not to scratch the glass. There were a lot of different colours in the design so this whole process needed several repetitions on each piece
(Fig.14. Glass with vinyl being rolled into large pre-programmed sandblaster.)
of glass as they would often be fired many times. The first step was the sandblasting. Areas to be sandblasted were cut out and the back was protected. The glass was carried onto a conveyor belt of sorts where it was then rolled slowly into an automated sandblaster that could be programmed to sandblast at different levels and for different times and strengths. It is then shot with compressed air to remove excess sand. The vinyl on the back is removed and the back is cleaned before it is put back on the table where the front is cleaned and it is lined up with the design again. This time when more vinyl is rolled out areas to be painted are cut away. Due to the nature of the design some of the patterns were too intricate to cut with a scalpel and a different process was used on these.
A substance called abdecklack, which was a sort of green liquid plastic (also comes in red) was painted on as a resist. It was painted on quite thickly and dried quite
(Fig.15. Abdecklack painted into the glass as a resist against paint.)
quickly. The paints that Claus uses are usually only mixed with gum arabic and water (he also uses turpentine on some occasions) because this makes them easier to clean up than say oil, and on large sheets of clear glass like this it is really important that the glass is completely clean before firing. After the glass paints are applied on top, the abdecklack can be peeled off in one piece or flicked off with a scalpel and hoovered up. Any abdecklack that is too tiny to peel off can be left as it will burn off in the kiln. After this process and a last clean of the glass it is fired in an industrial kiln. It takes the glass to 600C in three hours and then is cut off, cooling naturally overnight. The large sheets can have
(Fig.16. Glass with final and abdecklack resists painted.)
a 50 degree difference in temperature across them without them becoming stressed. It takes so much power to fire one of these kilns that in a special warehouse housing three only one can be turned on at a time.