Reflections on Glass: Fräbel in the Garden

Glass clowns in different postures by Fräbel
The Cavorting Clown Fountain

Clowns helter skelter after each other in what, we sense, ought to be an ordered line, but just isn’t. Embodied verbs, they pose, plunge, stumble, balance, strut, slip, bow and clamber, one or other body part defying gravity in that frozen moment to anchor the whole. Straight backs lend them dignity even as they take risks and cavort. We’re in the whimsical world of flamework glass artist, Hans Godo Fräbel, as seen at the Naples Botanical Garden, Florida, earlier this year.  

Elongated glass men crossing water by Hans Godo Fräbel
Longfellows cross the water with more or less aplomb

Further on, a convoy of Fräbel’s Longfellow characters amble across the water on fallen branches with good-natured heedlessness. Elongated and sinuous, their beady eyed heads and slender hips are so disconnected from paddle-like hands and feet that several of them are flailing at their reflections, mid-tumble. 

Glass cube frame and figure reflected in water
Longfellow Gravity towers above the water, casting patterns upon it

In the Brazilian Garden, another Longfellow leans back, his gaze fixed on one of three glass cubes that hover on and above the water. The cube seems barely more corporeal than its shimmering reflection, cool, abstract and unreal among bold waterlily flowers and their mottled pads. 

Compared to the scampering figures on the log, this Longfellow is poised, in control, like a snake charmer unsurprised to see a monster cube rise in answer to his summons rather than a cobra.

Fräbel's cube frames on water surrounded by lush tropical plants
Fräbel’s flamework glass art with architectural plants in the NBG’s Brazilian Garden

Naples Botanical Garden provided a wonderful backdrop for the Reflections On Glass: Fräbel in the Garden exhibition in winter 2018-19. The exhibition included botanical pieces, although here I’m focusing on some of his abstract and figurative work. To my English eyes, the garden looked astounding at a time when most gardens at home are barely roused from their slumber. I’d love to go again, although I doubt I’ll be passing that way any time soon.

This was my first experience of Fräbel’s work. He has been called The Father of Flamework because of his mastery of the technique. Flamework, also known as lampwork or torchwork, is a traditional form of glassmaking  where rods or tubes of glass are heated until they become soft and workable by hand and mouth. Often the surfaces of Fräbel’s pieces are finished with a chalky opaqueness, as seen in the clowns and longfellows. 

Large cube with imploding glass spheres by Hans Godo Fräbel
Large Cube With Imploding Glass Spheres sits on the blue water

In NBG’s Florida Garden, Large Cube With Imploding Glass Spheres would have been serene, were our minds not directed by the title to play out what might happen were those spheres to complete their collapse inward to a singularity. 

The cubes are tightly engineered but fragile, and look light enough to float, but weigh heavy.

Large glass cube by Fräbel at Naples Botanical Garden
Fräbel’s glass art is both at home in nature and uncannily other

I loved how the diminutive flowers in the foreground added an extra tier of interest, and how the imploding spheres and the towering palm tree don’t so much reflect as mimic each other in this placement. It must be so much fun for the team to choose new settings for these large scale installations as they move from one of America’s major gardens to another, or are purchased by a wealthy patron.

A film about the logistics of moving the cubes would be interesting to watch, but perhaps it’s better to ignore the effort and artifice, ignore the something that must be holding them up, and imagine that gravity has simply overlooked them, or given them a bye.

To connect with Fräbel’s studio, follow them on Instagram; for more about Naples Botanical Garden, check out their website.  

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