lighting and electrical

Ahead of the Curve

A Brooklyn-based glass studio produces traditional bent glass for both restoration projects and new light fixtures.

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The fine dining enjoyed by guests at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, WV, is illuminated by the dining room’s handsome lighting fixtures, which were recently restored by Flickinger Glassworks. Built in 1913, the Greenbrier had its interior radically redesigned in the late 1940s by Dorothy Draper (and further refined by Carleton Varney after he took over her firm in the 1960s). Seen here is one of those post-World War II fixtures, lying on its side in Flickinger’s shop; measuring approximately 4 ft. tall, its elegantly bent glass is divided into long and narrow longitudinal sections by lead channels. All photos: courtesy of Flickinger Glassworks

By Nicole V. Gagné

Working with the medium of glass has been a guiding passion throughout Charles Flickinger’s career. At first, his attraction to this indispensable material led him to the field of stained glass, and during his early years in New York City, Flickinger worked as a stained-glass craftsman, restorer and designer for various glass studios, including the prestigious Rambusch Decorating Company. It was while working at Rambusch during the mid-1980s that he had his first serious involvement with bent glass. The project was no less a feat than the restoration of the torch held aloft by the Statue of Liberty. “We spent three to four months out there,” Flickinger recalls, “taking the work boat out to Liberty Island and working on the bent-glass sections that were in the original flame. It was a very satisfying job.”

The satisfaction of that job also marked a bend in the road of his professional life, leading him to the art of bent glass. Beyond the techniques and beauties of the medium itself, Flickinger was attracted to the greater independence offered by this less-practiced discipline. “I wanted to work for myself," he explains. "I didn’t want to compete against quite a number of stained-glass firms that were in Manhattan, but I still wanted to pursue some kind of specialty-glass work. So by happenstance and other ways, I met four old-timers who taught me the trade, and I spent many years working for them and with them, learning how to do glass bending. They’re my Glass Benders Hall of Fame [a feature of the company’s website:].” This apprenticeship with such expert bent-glass craftsmen as Sydney Cash, Hans Deutsch, Maurice Heaton and John P. Morgan led to the inception of Flickinger Glassworks in 1985. However, the demand for the firm’s unique product soon outstripped its modest loft facility in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in 1990 an expanded Flickinger Glassworks relocated to its current home, a 7,000-sq.-ft. shop in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, overlooking New York Harbor.

Charles Flickinger describes the restoration of this cast-glass fixture: “They were restoring the lobby of a co-op building in New York City, which still had its original Art Deco decor--the woodwork, the doors, the desks. They also had several of these lighting fixtures, and we totally redid one of them after making a two-part bronze mold from one of the existing fixtures.”

The only all-around glass-bending facility in greater New York, Flickinger Glassworks is today internationally recognized as a leader in the design, creation and restoration of bent glass. The firm specializes in a variety of applications, from architectural curved glass to bent glass for the display cases of museums, libraries and retail stores; providing bent glass for lighting fixtures, however, has become one of Flickinger’s most valued services. Considering the likelihood of damage to this fragile material over the decades, the restoration and replication of antique bent glass have been constants for Flickinger Glassworks. But the growing enthusiasm for new lighting fixtures in traditional designs has also generated a market equaling that of restoration. Flickinger describes the demand as “definitely half and half. And that’s been very consistent, both with the design aspects – that is, re-creating the stencils or the silk screens, enamels and paints – as well as the balance between lighting restoration and new lighting.”

Although the balance in the type of light fixture projects has been consistent, their number has steadily grown. “Business has definitely increased,” Flickinger says, “and I think that’s just a function of more people finding out about us over time. In the past two weeks, we’ve started dealing with some lighting for a client in California – custom and restoration – who just learned about us. This is our 20th year, and they’re just finding out about us! Also, as far as new custom work is concerned, I think that there are a fair number of new companies, new designers and architects who are doing lighting. They find out about us, either through word of mouth or by our advertising. And many times, it’s been students from a design school like Parsons or Pratt who come through and tour our shop; when they’re out practicing, they remember us.” Keeping Flickinger Glassworks at the forefront of bent-glass production is the firm’s extensive collection of molds for bending glass, of which Flickinger is justly proud. “We have 6,000 steel molds here,” he says,“and far and away the majority came from my mentors. I either bought them outright, or I inherited them. We have so many, and we’re also constantly making new ones. And even more often, we’re reshaping the old ones. We have some molds for bowls that are from the 1830s and 1840s. And we still use them. In fact, projects like that make up a lot of what we do.”

Dating from the 1930s, this flush-mount ceiling fixture is adorned with floral detailing that tends to attract one’s attention; but the lighting’s functionality is dependent upon the glass within it. Flickinger Glassworks re-created the conical glass of its interior, which subtly tapers from a wide top to a narrower base, for Victor Carl Antiques of New York City.

Unusual challenges are frequent in the replication of glasswork for vintage lighting, but Flickinger Glassworks inevitably meets them all. “I think that we do a very good job of matching the glass,” Flickinger notes. “That really isn’t so difficult. What can be the most challenging aspect of restoring old lighting fixtures is matching the paint or stains or very fine filigree stencils. And we do the silk-screening, we do the etching, we do the enameling – all kinds of surface design applications. Recently, we did the lighting restoration for a bank in California, where the original fixture was 100 years old. It had some very fine filigree work that had to be re-created and some very difficult bending and blowing work that had to be done. It was one of our most challenging jobs, and in the end, one of the most satisfying.”

For a little more than two decades, Charles Flickinger has provided quality bent glass for projects both monumental and intimate. From the torch of the Statue of Liberty to the subtle detailing of a bank’s interior lighting fixture, he has mastered this demanding art form in a wide variety of applications. Through a combination of the traditional techniques of slumping sheet glass into steel molds and using the latest infrared technology for custom kilns, Flickinger Glassworks has been able to produce extraordinary bent glass of every shape, color and texture, mirroring the past while meeting the demands of contemporary usage.

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