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The mark of a true glassmaker is being totally smitten by a red-hot glob of molten glass. This was the reaction of Japanese glassmaker Ikushima Harumi when she saw the gathered glass at the end of a blowpipe coming out of a furnace for the first time. “I thought it looked like a beautiful glowing stone. I was very excited”, she recalls of the moment when her love affair with glass began.
Harumi specializes in the elaborate Italian glass making technique known as murrine. The murrine process begins by creating a fused bundle of colored glass into a design and stretching it into a cane. The cane is cut crosswise to reveal the design and these pieces are called murrine. The murrine are then arranged into a mosaic, fused into a tile, and picked up with a molten glass collar and blown into a vessel.
This blown murrine process that is used to create her footed cups is extremely complex because the murrine adds to the difficulty in creating a balanced and clean form. Uneven expansion of glass can also cause the pattern to warp. So how did Harumi master this composite process?
Harumi did not start out as a murrine glassmaker when she first entered the profession after graduating from Tama Art University almost 20 years ago. From the beginning, Harumi was curious to learn different techniques including lampworking, fusing, and casting that brought out different aspects of the beauty of glass.
The equipment that was available to her also determined what methods she could use. When Harumi’s glassmaker husband Ikushima Ken worked for the American glassmaker Dan Dailey at his studio between 1997 and 1999 near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Harumi bought a little kiln that was used on the kitchen counter to make kiln-formed glass.
After returning to Japan, the couple decided to build their own glass studio on the western coast of Izu peninsula in Shizuoka. Since their studio was built in 2001, Harumi has been blowing glass more frequently. The glassblowing process requires an assistant, and Ken and Harumi help each other. So being married to a glassmaker has also allowed her to continue glassblowing.
Harumi’s embrace of the murrine technique is likely the result of her experimentation with various methods of glassmaking throughout the years. “Among the many steps of creating blown murrine, I especially enjoy the quiet part of the process, like deciding the color and design of the cane, or making the canes, then cutting and arranging the little pieces” she explains. The all-involving murrine technique is perfect for this multi-skilled glassmaker.
The murrine process also offers a tantalizing insight into Harumi’s philosophy of glassmaking. “I want to make work that only I can create. But to me, what is distinctly mine is not defined by a new form or an interesting color of glass” she says. “As I make my work, I imagine the environment where my work is going to reside in, in the lives of other people who use it” she continues. “I want my work to be the vehicle to share the joyful feeling that I experience while making glass. The quiet, happy moment when I’m arranging the murrine on the kiln shelf.”
The stylish beauty that defines Harumi’s colorful work clearly captures her spirit and the serenity that comes from someone who is so at peace and in love with her craft.