Nauset Horizons

Revival of an Art Form: Sydenstricker Gallery

A fish sculpture from Sydenstricker galleries, made by Tom Mullen. (Photo courtesy of Sydenstricker Galleries.)

A fish sculpture from Sydenstricker galleries, made by Tom Mullen. (Photo courtesy of Sydenstricker Galleries.)

Joshua Schofield, Reporter

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Brewster, it’s seven o’clock, and the morning light filters through the cloudy windows, dusted with jeweler’s enamel. The workers cut glass or enamel blanks expectantly waiting for the thousand-degree plates to cool. “The Free Beer and Hot Wings Show” sounds from the stereo, reverberating through the studio. Sydenstricker Galleries, opened in 1968 by Bill Sydenstricker, is world renowned. They craft fully custom glass plates, each handmade, signed and dated. “Sydenstricker transcends being just another art studio,” said former employee Jim Davis “it is somewhere you can always feel at home.”

“Their artwork is o-‘fish’-ally gorgeous, really beautiful colors and very creative ideas” Anna Terrenzi, a junior of Nauset High School, remarked while looking at a Fish Sculpture created from Sydenstricker Galleries.

Very few American companies manufacture rolled glass panes which are suitable for use in the craft; subsequently, the glass needed was imported from Shang-Hai, China. However, tariffs drastically raised the price of ordering the already expensive glass sheet from China, forcing the gallery to purchase float glass from an American company.Times changed after Bill Sydenstricker’s death in 1994, and soon a decision was made to modernize the shop with new and more efficient equipment. Economic and political changes impacted the gallery’s suppliers, adding another strain on the company.

Rolled glass which is thinner, purer and cheaper than float glass, had been used in the studio for years. Yet, due to its recent unavailability, float glass is all that can be used. Over time, float glass oxidizes, causing glass to self-tint and become cloudy. Although Sydenstricker artisans learned how to combat this, it is still an issue and slows the production process greatly.

Furthermore, enameling powder has become increasingly expensive. Known in the business as jeweler’s enamel, it is crushed glass powder fused to metallic oxides such as gold and silver. Jeweler’s enamel has skyrocketed in price due to materials cost and safety precautions which must be taken during the manufacturing processes. To abate costs, the gallery manufactures some of its own frits, in addition to what it purchases.

The waste powder, called table enamel, unable to be recycled, is placed into molds and fired into one solid mass of multicolored glass and is then disposed of. There is actually an entire kiln designated solely for this purpose. “When that kiln is full, there is a good 77 kilos of jeweler’s enamel in there” elucidated Tom Mullen of Sydenstricker galleries.

Electricity is another added expense, and a large one at that. The shop boasts ten kilns which can each reach well over two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. “The shop uses around one to seven thousand kilowatt hours of electricity every day depending on what we’re doing,’’ explained Mullen.

The kilns will usually fire to 1800 degrees, at which point the glass fuses together. The plates slowly cool to relieve the stresses in the glass; this is called annealing and takes approximately 24 hours.

Intense as this process is, each and every step is necessary to ensure product quality, and it pays off, too.

“Truly excellent craftsmanship.” Andrew Evans of Nauset High School noted while handling a piece of Sydenstricker glassware.

“Those are awesome!” added Connor McLeod, a Nauset High School senior.

Sydenstricker has weathered the changing political and economic landscape of America and is currently firing on all cylinders to keep up with the immense amount of orders they receive. Its customer base has exploded, and the company has expanded its horizons more than ever, testing out new designs and techniques. This year Sydenstricker is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. The gallery is a Cape Cod legacy, a fact which would make Bill Sydenstricker proud.

 

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