''Creating a murrhini piece involves three stages. In the first state I form a hot mass of glass made up of concentric bubbles of color. This is formed into a square shape which is reheated until it can be stretched into a square ''cane'' one-half to one inch thick, by fifteen feet in length. The cane is then divided into sections and annealed, which means cooled slowly. This stabilizes the glass.
After the cooling, the sticks of cane are sliced into pieces about one-quarter of an inch thick. These are called murrhini. The murrhini resemble small mosaic tiles which reveal the pattern of the original glass bubble in a cross section. The murrhini are then arranged on an iron plate called a pastorelli, which is gradually heated.
Repeated heating and shaping of the murrhini pieces with metal paddles forms a blanket of fused glass. This blanket is then picked up with a blowpipe on a collar of hot glass. The resulting cylinder is closed at the end, providing the bubble that can be formed into a vessel.
It takes many days to pull and anneal all the cane needed to create the different colors and patterns found in each piece. This explains the expense and the rarity of these vessels. The challenge of unraveling and recreating these ancient techniques has been one of the most challenging tasks of my career. There are few glassblowers in the world working in this technique.''
When Robin Mix tried glassblowing at the University of Massachusetts in the early '70s, he wasn't very good at it. But he kept doing it anyway. The challenges of the medium, the visually engaging, colorful and quick environment around the furnace intrigued him, sparking a 30-year career that took him through the glass factories of Northern Europe to some of America's finest galleries and exhibitions. An artist and a craftsman combined, Robin's functional works are individually conceived from raw canes of color and carried by his own hands to completion.
Robin's curiosity in glass took him to Kosta Glasbruk, Sweden's oldest and largest glass factory, to work under renowned designers and their varied styles. There he was first exposed to Swedish glassblowers' roots in Venetian tradition mixed with a distinctive Scandinavian design aesthetic that bordered on architectural. He continued his studies at glass schools in Sweden, Holland, and Denmark, learning respect and further appreciation of the medium.
Around the time Robin returned to the United States, the American Studio Glass Movement was beginning to take form. Individual artists began to sharpen the craft in their own studios rather than belonging to a collective of glassblowers vying for one shared furnace. In 1976 Robin founded Tunbridge Glassworks, a converted 18th century farmhouse in rural Vermont that allowed him to apply the technical discipline learned in Europe to an exploration of technique. A handful of Venetian trade beads and a demonstration by an Italian master launched Robin into murrhini nearly 12 years ago, making him one of the first American glassblowers to employ such an involved technique.
Like vibrant panes of glass patched together with gossamer thread, Robin's murrhini glass is characterized by bold concentric squares and ribbons of color, fused and drawn into fluid and functional vessels. Murrhini's principles are ancient; mosaic glass techniques were practiced in Pompeii. Visit the Glossary (link to Glossary page) to learn more about murrhini. Recently, Robin has extended his innovative vision into pixelato, another mosaic technique that mathematically effervesces tiny points of color throughout the glass.
Finding creative limitations in the raw glass colors commercially available, Robin painstakingly mixes many of the custom jewel tones in his work. Without formal engineering or chemical training, he instead borrows some color recipes from Venetian glassblowers; others from contemporaries in the U.S., and still others he happens upon by trial and error. The result is a brilliant spectrum of hues not commonly found in American glass.
There are glass artists who conjure up a gorgeous design, then hire others to produce replications of it. Robin is not one of those artists. He hand crafts each and every vessel that leaves his studio, knowing that each step of the process demands the split-second decision of the artist to bring a piece to its final beauty. To feel like an idea is fully developed, that its full potential is able to evolve, Robin stays in touch with the technical aspects of the material throughout and often discovers new possibilities during the most mundane studio tasks.
Unlike clay or paint, murrhini glass is a temperamental medium that forces the artist to work within its inherent boundaries. Color pairings, size, and shape are all largely dictated by the glass, setting up a rubric for an artist to move within. However, if an artist simply lets the glass do what it wants, everything begins to look the same. To realize its fullest potential, Robin looks to murrhini's thousand-year history to study the forms and palettes that masters of the past were able to coax from luminous canes of glass. His exploration nearly always begins with the Venetians, the longest and most continuous bloodline of Italian glass. A disciplined student of this rich history, Robin blurs the line between European craftsmanship and American ingenuity.
Robin's work has been featured in the pages of Boston Globe Magazine, Food & Wine, House Beautiful, and Architectural Digest among others. His vessels have been the focus of numerous exhibitions including Design USA's 2-year tour of the former USSR and solo shows at Pritnam & Earnes and the Boulder Arts & Crafts Cooperative, and reside in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design and The Museum of American Glass.
Despite his recognizable work, Robin refuses to take himself too seriously. His self-proclaimed stubbornness reflects in his commitment to the art, but his passion for the medium makes him a willing conversationalist when someone asks him how it's done. This honest dedication results in a style of decorative glass that is not just ornamental; each piece stands out individually in its function, mastery, and genuine innovation.