Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Art adds to bank’s lobby

April 4, 2007

Twenty handmade, colorful disc and dome-shaped pendulum lights snake across the ceiling of the new First State Bank & Trust building in Basehor.

They are an unusual sight in a bank, but they add an artistic flair to what would otherwise be empty space. And they are exactly what bank vice presidents Harry Wheeler and Jilinda White were going for when working on the bank's lighting.

The idea

The new bank opened to the public Feb. 26, but a short time before then Wheeler and White, who were in charge of figuring out a lighting scheme for the lobby, were still searching for a solution.

"The whole idea was we had the space and we wanted to do something with it," said Wheeler, senior vice president at the Tonganoxie branch of First State Bank and Trust. "We did struggle quite a bit. We went months and months trying to fill that space."

White, executive vice president at the Tonganoxie branch, said she and Wheeler knew they needed some kind of pendulum light to fill the space. The building architect, Michael Cornwell, with CP and Associates, had the concept of doing something similar to the lighting in Teller's Restaurant and Bar, which is housed in a former bank building in Lawrence and has several white, hanging globe lights.

"But we didn't think white lights would be appropriate," White said. "We wanted something more colorful."

Another stipulation -- they didn't want to just order light fixtures out of a catalog, White said. They wanted to find a local artist. Cornwell had somebody in mind -- Free State Glass in Lawrence.

The artists

Photos of cats and old friends decorate the walls and shelves containing a myriad of colorful glass sculptures from ornaments to vases fill the back of the Free State Glass shop on East Ninth Street.

Owners Dick Rector and Jim Slough have been in business since 1984, and both of them learned the art of glass blowing through classes offered at Kansas University in the early 1980s.

Tuesday morning, Rector takes a break from the art to construct a table for his latest project -- a large chandelier for a nearby luxury loft. They do custom work, he said, but they get to pick and choose which projects they will create.

"There's just the two of us, so I don't take on just anything," he said.

Their work can be seen at several places around Lawrence, including Zen Zero, Pisano's and Stone Creek restaurant. Lawrence's Phoenix Gallery and Roy's Gallery also have pieces, as well as galleries in Kansas City, Portland and Fort Worth.

Rector and Slough live by this simple rule: "If we're here we're open." Thus, a customer or gallery owner's best bet is to call first, then come into the shop and choose their pieces off the shelf.

"Gallery owners who are most successful come here and pick it out," Slough said.

A heat wave can be felt coming from the shop's east side where furnaces are kept fired up 24 hours a day. Benches and various tools surround the furnaces. About 90 percent of the items in the shop were salvaged from somewhere else, and the owners design and build their own equipment.

Slough begins to gather clear, molten glass on the end of a hollow steel rod from one furnace and prepares pieces of what was once a concentrated colored glass rod for melting in another. The glass is heated to a fiery 1,000 degrees.

It's a painstaking process of layering, keeping the glass pliable with continuous heat and, most importantly, keeping the steel rod spinning so the piece doesn't lose its shape.

A quick, short breath is blown through the end of the rod to make a bubble as Slough requests assistance from one of his apprentices, Pedro Sanders. The melted glass begins to take shape as Slough rolls it back and forth on a steel plate and pushes it back into the furnace. Next, he creates ridges on the piece by plunging it into a metal mold on the floor and blowing another blast of air into the rod. Sanders allows a thin ribbon of black melted glass to fall from another steel rod and wrap around the piece as Slough spins it steadily. It immediately goes back into the furnace, as Sanders explains that the colored glass will only stick to the ridges. The other part of the ribbon will melt away creating dots.

More spinning, more shaping with tools, more colors added, then Sanders puts on a pair of large gloves, catches the finished product as Slough cuts it off the rod and quickly places it in a 900 degree oven. The gradual cool down process prevents the piece from shattering.

Slough heads toward the aloe plants kept by the front door for just this sort of activity. He has burned his thumb -- an inevitable hazard in the art of glass blowing.

He has successfully created two custom ordered pieces in about an hour, and while they may not always turn out the way he envisions, he fully enjoys his craft.

"For me, working with hot glass is kind of like meditating."

The concept

Wheeler and White visited Free State Glass and went over some different color and shape concepts with Rector.

"We were trying to find something local in nature; Kansas in nature," Wheeler said. "The building is made out of a lot of natural materials."

The duo decided to go with the concept of the changing seasons of the Kansas prairie. Wheeler said it takes an artistic eye to pick up on the theme, but the colors of the lights are supposed to express the different seasons. The lights closest to the front doors are white and purples, depicting winter, and gradually go to greens, blues, oranges, reds and back to the winter color scheme back toward the teller counter.

They said they achieved their goal of filling the space in a creative way and bringing in local artisans and a Kansas theme.

"I'm very delighted with the outcome," White said. "It's just beautiful."

The grand opening

The new Basehor branch of First State Bank & Trust will be having a grand opening celebration from 3 to 7 p.m., Thursday, April 12.

The public is invited to enjoy refreshments, the Pledge of Allegiance led by area Scouts, speeches by bank officials as well as Basehor City Administrator Carl Slaugh and an Invocation of Dedication by pastor Howard Johnson of Basehor United Methodist Church. There will also be live music from 5 to 7 p.m. and a prize drawing at 6 p.m.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.