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.
Yesterday was a spectacular day in the studio, working with my smart and lovely studio assistant, Katie Bullock. I’m working with Oster’s Ancient Winchester silverstain fired face-up in my Hoaf Speedburn kiln to create a marvelous blue-tinged mirrored image that breathes a golden haze around each individual print.
Both the mirroring and areas of carefully chosen opalescent glass will be visible from inside the chapel after dark, when the rest of the stained glass goes black.
Annotating the geometric layout to make it easier to print the repeating motifs onto glass.
Katie printing multiples of the vesica pisces petal motif using the annotated grid as a guide. The petals are overlaid in a very specific fashion that results in a spiraling sunburst.
Placing painted glass on trays ready to be fired. The silverstain looks opaque at this stage.
Above, a tray of fired glass. Below, various reflections.
Thanks again a hundred-fold to Cliff Oster, who formulated this stain for me back in 2005 when I was working on stained glass for St Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. I can control the colour density and value via different methods of application; or by altering the viscosity of the paint; or by shifting the proportions of water to propylene glycol in the paint thinning process. This one silverstain, Ancient Winchester, can create beautiful, transparent colour ranging from a ‘barely there’ pale lemon yellow to deep amber brown. I can also control (to some extent) the different levels of bleed and irridescence or mirroring by changing my kiln temperature and firing conditions. On top of all that, the clay carrier washes off easily and never sticks to the glass. In this particular application for Carroll College chapel the reverse of the glass (some of which may be seen closeup when the windows are installed) looks like mirrored copper. We were made for each other, me and Ancient Winchester, and I never use any other silverstains.
More about my use of propylene glycol as a medium, my glasspainting Notes for Students, and other technical materials check these pages.