Continuing our series celebrating craftsmanship in Bahrain, Nicola Shipway meets The Glass Artist, Nomi Rajan.
The glass jars look as enticing as those in a sweet shop. Packed with fragments of glass, some of it crushed powder-fine, others as round as gobstoppers, the containers fill one corner of Nomi Rajan’s light-filled studio in Riffa. By the window is a stand for more glass – sheets of it are stacked vertically in slots, like paper in an art shop – and nearby are a bevelling machine and two kilns, ready to fire.
The kilns are essential to Nomi’s craft; without them, it is not possible to fuse glass. “I buy sheets of glass and crushed glass, called ‘frits’, and thin pieces called stringers, from Portland in the US,” says Nomi. “My work involves fusing together four sheets of glass to make sculptures, bowls, ceiling panels – the sky’s the limit.”
The glass is melted slowly in the kiln at temperatures up to 800°C until, Nomi says, “it becomes like water”. It can then fill the grooves of one of her many moulds, taking on a texture – the “thicker the glass, the better the texture”. Stringers are heated to a lower temperature in order to retain their “stringy” texture and slim, rectangular form.
For Nomi, the appeal of glass is partly to do with the way in which light passes through it. “I like the way sunlight travels through a glass object and reflects colours on the wall, spreading out, enhancing what’s around the glass. In the past, I worked with ceramics, but ceramic glazes do not always come out as you intended – they react with the things next to them in the kiln. Sometimes, this results in a good surprise, but I like glass because I know which colours I’m working with. It is easy to plan.”
Her passion for glass fusion began after she happened to see a feature about melted glass on television. “I was fascinated,” she says. In 2009, she did a workshop at Rochester Creative Glass in the UK, learning about glass moulding, fusing and texturing. She tried glass-blowing in a factory in Prague, but has no wish to do it in Bahrain. “To blow glass you have to stand by open kilns. It’s too hot here.” In 2013, she continued her studies at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle.
Nomi has a masters in political science but, she says, “I was always more inclined to art”. Today, much of what she makes fulfils a practical purpose. In her studio are greenish swimming-pool tiles decorated with a pattern of fish; a striking, colourful bowl ideal for fruit which, underneath, looks as if it is made from dripping wax; and waist-high standing light fittings. She works mainly for interior designers and private clients, cutting all the pieces of glass herself, and says she can produce panels of any size or length. Most projects spend about 18 hours or more in
the kiln, although one project took three days to fire.
“My main focus is to bring fused glass into interiors,” she says. “It is already popular in Europe. I have to import everything to Bahrain – the tools, the glass, machinery – but nothing is going to stop me.”
It is rewarding work. “Every project has its own charm, its own excitement; and in every project there is something new to learn. It’s very satisfying to think I’ve done this and learnt from scratch, and I want to promote fused glass here. Dale Chihuly’s Glass Garden in Seattle is amazing – why not have glass like that here, too?”
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