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Thursday, 23 May 2019
Hidden Gem: Sydenstricker Glass

Visiting Cape Cod? Check Out This Hidden Gem: Sydenstricker Glass, Brewster, Massachusetts

After a snow-banked winter, I decided to go to Cape Cod for a couple of days. Stopping at the tourist booth along the way, I found a unique place you might like to visit: Sydenstricker Glass (490 Main Street, Brewster, Massachusetts, 508-385-3272).

After driving to Brewster along curvaceous Cape Cod roads, I walked down a brick path behind the Sydenstricker Glass gallery to the workshop, which you can visit. Bill Sydenstricker founded the company during the 1960s. Through his research on early Egyptian art while a student at MIT, Mr. Sydenstricker developed the unique glass craft practiced here.

Tom has been at Sydenstricker for 39 years and Jenn for 17 years. They work in a glass-enclosed area with filters to prevent them from breathing in powdered glass. Starting with clear glass sheets, each artisan places a manila-folder stencil on top of the glass.

An artisan works on the glass.

The glass designs require stencils: anywhere from two to seventeen. A new sunflower pattern, for example, requires six stencils. The first three stencils require mostly yellow, orange, and red glass powder forming the flower petals. The top three layers of stencils form the green leaves. Through a small sieve, each color of powdered glass is tapped with a well-worn spoon onto its designated stencil. Each stencil layer must be removed carefully to not ruin the pattern. Once the pattern is complete, excess powdered glass is removed with a flat razorblade. Another clear glass square is placed on top to start a new glass plate design.

Pairs of glass sheets fuse in the kiln, where they are fired for five hours at 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. They conform to the shapes of the molds. The glass then cools in the kiln for 40 hours. The cost of each plate depends on the amount of kiln space it requires.

The result is unique and highly sought-after. United States presidents, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Pope own Sydenstricker glass! Popular Sydenstricker patterns include hydrangeas (four stencils) and blueberries (seven stencils). The company's first paper pattern is The White Daisy. The Embassy, the company's first geometric pattern, is thus named because the patterned plates grace many embassies around the United States.

Posted By Karen Axelrod at 11:35 AM
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Ecuadorian Handicrafts

I visited my daughter, Hilary, who is studying abroad this semester in Quito, Ecuador. We went to La Casa de Suizo, along the Napo River in the rainforest of eastern Ecuador. In addition to beautiful nature walks, delicious food, and a visit to an animal rescue center, we had the opportunity to visit an indigenous Quechua village. There we met friendly locals who taught us about their artisanal handcrafts.

Carving a falcon in wood takes a whole day. With a machete, Samuel rapidly swats at the soft, light balsam wood to create the general shape of a falcon. Once he has arrived at the rough shape, he switches to a carving knife. Seated, Samuel hunches over the balsam wood, which rests on the trunk pedestal. The wood is so soft and light that he almost effortlessly carves the beak, the claws, and the body of the falcon. After being baked to remove moisture from the wood, the carving is painted. Upstairs, you can purchase some of his art.

Ceramics is the work of mujeres — women, whose craft is taught when they are young girls. Wearing pink flip-flops and a floral tank top, Lourdes sits at a small wooden table and explains in Spanish her Quechua background and the importance of ceramics to the Quechua culture. Dipping her fingers in muddy water, she grabs a clump of gray clay (only small quantities of clay can be dug at one time from the nearby riverbanks).

She pats it back and forth between her hands to form a ball and then rolls it on the table to create a coil, tapping each end to flatten it. Then she rolls out another clay coil. Next she pokes a hole into the main ball and squeezes and presses the sides to form a very thin bowl. She wraps one coil along the top rim and squeezes and pinches it to adhere it to the bowl's rim. Then she attaches the second coil.

Once the bowl has dried, but before it has been fired, Lourdes dips a rock made of hardened colored clay in water and demonstrates the painting of red or black hues on the bowl. Using minuscule brushes made from black human hair, she paints intricate geometric patterns. After each cup air-dries for one day, to prevent cracking, it is placed on a handmade rack and baked over an open fire in the corner of the same room. You can purchase some of Lourdes' creations — $3 for a tiny bowl to $25 for larger, more intricately painted bowls. Exact change is much appreciated, as change is hard to obtain in Ecuador.

Posted By Karen Axelrod at 1:41 PM
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