The Give and Take of Glass

Mark Rosenbaum’s “Shoulder Vase.”

Vibrant, iridescent color swirls in a wave-like pattern up a vase that is reminiscent of a torso, surrounded with a clear border that ends in two knobs that resemble shoulders. The fact that Mark Rosenbaum once worked as a medical illustrator shines through when you look at what could be considered his signature piece, the “Shoulder Vase.”

Rosenbaum owns the Rosetree Glass Studio, located within a renovated Art Deco movie house in historic Algiers Point. “We have a gallery in front and our studio in back,” Rosenbaum says. “We also have a viewing room where you can watch us working on our art. We have a lot of room and were very lucky to get this space.”
   
Rosenbaum was first drawn to glassblowing when he attended art school in Philadelphia, Pa. “It was part of the ceramics program,” he explains. “It looked so amazing and magical. To be able to create something beautiful and tangible from a blob of molten material was an epiphany. It also looked like real fun.” After he received his BFA from the Tyler School of Art, he came to Tulane University and became the first person to receive an MFA in glass from Tulane. Then Rosenbaum began creating glass as his job, “I received a Louisiana Division of the Arts grant to build the first privately owned glass studio in the state of Louisiana,” he says. “After that, it was a lot of trial and error. School teaches a lot of things, but the everyday ins and outs of running a small business and studio are learned by the experiences of day-to-day work.” He has successfully run the studio for 21 years.

A selection of ornaments.

The time it takes to create a glass sculpture can be difficult to estimate, especially if you, like Rosenbaum, create disparate pieces ranging from candlesticks to lamps. “If you count the melting of the glass, the work time in front of the furnace and the annealing [cooling off period], a piece can take anywhere from three to four days,” Rosenbaum says. “Just the time in front of the furnace can take about an hour for some, but that doesn’t take into account the pieces that are attempted but never make it to be sold. I can work a whole day and not make a piece to sell. Sometimes,” he smiles, “I tell people that it takes 28 years to make the piece!”

 “I do my best thinking when I’m working,” Rosenbaum smiles. After he gets an idea, he sketches it out, takes it into the shop and begins to attempt what he’s sketched. This is where the piece inevitably changes. “Glass is a lot of give and take,” he explains. “You can’t force the material, so you have to let it have a ‘voice’ in the process. When we get comfortable with the results and can repeat a similar design, that’s when the piece is added to our repertoire.”

The lamp and vase showcase Rosenbaum’s love of color.

Each day of glass sculpting begins the night before for Rosenbaum, “I schedule what pieces we are going to make the next day and plan out the space in the annealers [Ed. note: This is a space with a carefully controlled temperature that allows the glass to cool slowly so that strains are released and not re-imposed during cooling]. The next day, I work with my assistant on each piece.” His assistant starts each piece, gathers the glass and layers the colors—usually made using colored glass chips and powders—on the blown glass bubble. The assistant also does some of the color manipulation, which is a distinctive feature of Rosenbaum’s work. “I take [the bubble] and add the final gather or coating of glass,” he says. “I then add air and shape the piece.” The addition of side “bits” or additions of glass and a cast foot are added, if needed. The piece is then transferred to another iron so that the lip can be shaped, and a lip wrap of color applied. The piece is then removed from the iron and placed into an annealer. “I’m tied to technology,” Rosenbaum laughs when asked if there’s anything he doesn’t like about his work, “and sometimes it doesn’t cooperate!”

Mark Rosenbaum at work in his studio

Currently, Rosenbaum is working on a series of installation-oriented pieces, and he’s doing a show in Texas this March to showcase them. He’s constantly striving to expand his glass bubble, so to speak, “I love to express my skill and love of the material in different ways.” From ornaments to installation pieces, watching him work in his Art Deco theater is definitely a show to be seen.

Rosetree Glass Studio and Gallery
446 Vallette Street, 504/366-3602,

www.rosetreeglass.com


Categories: Masters of their Craft

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