Mountain Laurel

Mathematical art geometry raised 3D Penrose tiling by Debora Coombs & Duane Bailey at Williams College

Mountain Laurel (oblique view)


Mountain Laurel is one of three recently completed sculptures now on display in the Schow Science Library at Williams College. They show an area of three-dimensional Penrose tiling that continues to infinity in all directions. This ongoing series is a collaboration with my friend computer scientist Duane Bailey who has spent 30+ years investigating Penrose tiling. Our exhibition is called a.periodicity a mathematical term for this curious symmetry.

The sculptures are structurally identical -all precisely the same size and shape. But each is coloured differently according to some aspect of the mathematics. Mountain Laurel provides insight into the relationship between 2D and 3D versions of Penrose tiling.


In two-dimensions Penrose tiling requires two different shapes to construct; a fat rhombus and a skinny rhombus. Although each tile in the sculpture is identical, Mountain Laurel codes them according to the shadow they would project onto a flat surface. Green tiles would project the shadow of a skinny rhombus in 2D. Pink tiles would create the shadow of a fat rhombus in 2D.

In all three sculptures, colour enables us to see unexpected shapes and patterns when the sculpture is viewed from different angles. Mountain Laurel is built from identical rhombi -the tiles are all the same shape – but the composition yields marvelously irregular patterns. Shapes and rhythms appear and disintegrate as you move around the sculpture.


The back of the sculpture provided its title Mountain Laurel. Here’s work in progress with binder clips and reverse-engineered clothes pins.

Aperiodic tilings are mathematical models for quasicrystals, physical solids that were discovered in 1982 by Dan Shechtman who subsequently won the Nobel prize for his work in 2011. I’ve also built them in stained glass, with mathematical rules encoded into the surface pattern.





Artist residency, tiling projects


Work in progress on mathematical tiling done during my Artist Residency at MASS MoCA this month. Also models made with computer scientist Duane Bailey this past July. Scroll down this post for construction pics.


38 lanterns for NYCity gala


photo 1This time last week I was in NY City at MASS MoCA’s 15th anniversary fundraising gala with artist Darren Waterston showing off our latest collaboration, a sold-out edition of 35 lanterns. It was such a pleasure to work on Darren’s spectacular installation Filthy Lucre (the centerpiece of his show Uncertain Beauty at MASS MoCA). Watching him paint beautiful, mysterious landscapes onto panes of glass for the lanterns was equally splendid. A real treat.

Darren paintingDarren Waterston, painting landscapes onto glass


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gala w Darren

The Plank: Patinated and Polished to Perfection

Creative collaboration: 8.5ft of steel reinforced, painted, kiln-fired and copper-foiled stained glass for NY artist Jason Middlebrook; now finished and on exhibition in Chicago.












Glazing the Middlebrook plank

Photos taken in the studio today, starting with tack-soldering the copper-foiled glass into the steel frame.

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and the flip side of the plank, with glass in place and ready to be soldered tomorrow morning.

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Plus one last photo of our fancy gloves…

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Read other posts about Jason Middlebrook‘s stained glass plank: the early drawings; welding and fabricating a steel armaturereinforcing the armature, cladding with copper foil, modeling the tree bark, taking templates and cutting glass.

Or come to Open Studio tomorrow, Friday Sept 5th, from 4-6pm

Open Studio Friday, Sept 5th 4-6pm

My latest artist collaboration: a stained glass plank for Jason Middlebrook. Come and visit my studio before it leaves for Chicago. All welcome (details below).

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photo 3 Above, still wrapping the armature with copper foil. Below, glasspainting.

Read other posts about Jason Middlebrook‘s stained glass plank: the early drawings; welding and fabricating a steel armaturereinforcing the armature, cladding with copper foil, modeling the tree bark, taking templates and cutting glass.

photo 4The glass on the left still has one layer of contact paper from the sandblasting. I’m painting enamel into the areas that were blasted.

photo 5Removing contact paper masks. After a little cleaning up, I kiln-fired each piece to fix the enamel permanently into the surface of the glass.

If you’re really interested, and live near enough, do come and visit my studio on Friday to see the plank before it leaves for Chicago.     Time: 4-6pm, Friday Sept 5th. Where: 359 Rue Madeline, Readsboro VT 05350. Email: or call me, area code 802, 423~5640.

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Steel & stained glass for Jason Middlebrook

photo 2Welding and grinding continues…

photo 4Richard has added reinforcing brackets at intervals around the perimeter of the armature according to the drawing to strengthen the whole armature and create a structure to support the bark of the plank.

Armature for stained glass plank; Jason Middlebrook and Debora CoombsNext, the bars, or “ferramenta” in stained glass lingo, which separate the painted glass panes. All have been cut and welded precisely according to Jason’s drawing.
photo 3The armature is complete.

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Next, I began wrapping every inch of steel with copper foil. See the ribbon-like perimeter with it’s reinforcing brackets.

photo 5I used 1/.4″ thick glass cut with an irregular chamfered edge to represent the outer cambium layer of the plank (between bark and wood). I wanted this to be flush with the surface of the glass panes. Concertina-like strips of bronze fill cavities in the armature to support the bark.

photo 5This was the first experimental section of the perimeter, copper-clad and sculpted with solder to resemble tree bark.

And here’s the glasscutting almost complete. I was engrossed and didn’t take photos…

photo 1-2..but Richard took a shot of me making the very last template.

photo 5-1Each pane was cut very precisely from a rubbing made from the armature.

Jason was excited to see the glass laid out over his drawing when he arrived on Thursday to start cutting masks for the sandblasting. Each pane was then sandblasted to create an incised area that was painted and kiln-fired with black glass stainers enamel.

photo 2-1Here’s the glass, laid over the cartoon. Today I’ve been glasspainting…. more photos to follow!

Armature for a Plank

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It’s not so much an armature, but rather a beautiful steel sculpture that I will be filling with stained glass according to Jason Middlebrook‘s design for “Cottonwood Plank“.

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I’d made cardboard templates from my earlier drawing of the plank, and my first task was to transfer this onto the welding table with chalk.

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Richard started re-creating the drawing with a ribbon of 2 inch by 1/8 inch cold-rolled steel flat-stock. Richard tacked a short length of angle-iron to the table to hold the bottom of the plank in place. He then welded the beginning of our flat-bar to the angle iron and we started cold-working the flat-bar, curve by curve, according to the drawing. We figured out a technique that was a lot like leading up a stained glass window, but with steel instead of lead. Richard tacked bolts and scraps of angle iron to the table to secure the curves, one by one, as we made our way around the perimeter of the drawing.

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It was important to try not to weld the flat-stock ‘ribbon’ itself to the table!

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Sculptor, Richard Criddle striking an arc with MIG welder in the background.

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We gently levered the flat-stock ‘ribbon’ out of it’s jig, which you can see here still welded to the table.

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Someone asked how we got the jig off the welding table when we’d finished, well… tediously! It took over an hour to smack off the bolts and pieces of angle iron and grind the surface back smooth. Jason stopped by a few days later to see how his piece was progressing. For Bostonians, there’s a lovely Middlebrook to be seen at the entrance to the exhibition Expanding the Field of Painting at the ICA.

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A stained glass plank for Jason Middlebrook


Another artist collaboration to keep me on my toes: making a stained glass plank (yes, that’s a length-wise cross-sectional slab of tree) for Jason Middlebrook. He’s been working on a series of very lovely, abstract, painted wood planks for several years, and recently started to work in different media, including concrete, bronze and now, stained glass.

As a test, I cut up an old stained glass window to see if I could give it some depth and texture to look like tree bark. Crumpled, soldered copper foil over a sturdy mosaic of mirror eventually did the job quite well.




Jason loved the sample, and turned up at my studio soon after with a beautiful cottonwood plank almost 9ft tall that was to be our model, the specific plank I would be re-creating.


My first drawing shows the place where the cross-section of the inner bark meets the wood proper. It’s a smooth darker area that’s flush with the surface of the plank. A welded steel armature will follow the bumps and curves of this line.




Then I made a wax rubbing of the edge of the plank where the bark begins to slope away.


I set Jason up with some narrow strips of black masking tape and he started drawing out the major breaks.


Here’s the partially completed cartoon (there will be a lot more linework) and the cutlines. Jason Middlebrook’s exhibition at MASS MoCA is up for another week (’til April 6th) and well worth a visit.

Uncertain Beauty

IMG_7697Photo: Olympia Shannon

Darren Waterston’s exhibition Uncertain Beauty, of paintings, studies and drawings alongside his major installation, Filthy Lucre (above) opened today at MASS MoCA. It’s a wonderful exhibition and well worth a visit. Below, Darren is working on a mural of fighting peacocks that represent the artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and his patron, British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. Here’s a link to an article in the Berkshire Eagle that explains more about Filthy Lucre. It’s a complex and thoughtful work of art.

IMG_7708Photo: Olympia Shannon

I was onsite at MASS MoCA for just a few weeks, faux-painting interior surfaces and creating gold texture on  spindly wooden shelving supports. I used my standard glasspainting tools and techniques with with thick acrylic. It drove my mark-making up a notch, literally, into the third dimension; applying paint with a trowel, then combing and tooling to create rhythmic, low-relief patterns that catch and scatter the light from the stained glass lamps.

The lamps were my major contribution to this installation. Like everything else inside Filthy Lucre  the design is loosely based on Whistler’s 19th century original. Darren did the glasspainting himself during a visit to my studio.

Around a dozen artists and artisans worked alongside MASS MoCA’s phenomenal in-house art fabrication team (of course, I’m biased!) over a 8 month period on the creation of Filthy Lucre. Here’s my very own Richard Criddle and his crew installing the ceiling and lamps.

IMG_7091Photo: Olympia Shannon

IMG_7093Photo: Olympia Shannon


Thanks to MASS MoCA’s Olympia Shannon for some lovely photos. There are more on Darren Waterston’s own blog about the making of Filthy Lucre, and his website


What: Uncertain Beauty – art by Darren Waterston featuring Filthy Lucre, a recreation of James McNeill Whistler’s Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room.

Where: Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Massachusetts
March 8, 2014 – February 1, 2015
Opening Reception: March 29, 2013

Performance by Filthy Lucre soundscape composers BETTY: Saturday, March 22, 8pm
Artist talk: Thursday, August 7, 6pm

Filthy Lucre will travel to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, opening July 1, 2015