His name is Daniel Clayman, but I keep thinking of him as Glassman.
On a hot and muggy afternoon, the glass man descended from a scissor lift in Grounds For Sculpture’s Museum Building to talk about his installation. “Radiant Landscape,” on view through February, 2018, uses the building itself as its armature, and comprises three elements: “Amber Drape,” a cascading curve of amber-colored glass tiles that consumes most of the building’s main gallery; “Contracurve,” a similarly structured wall of glass tiles that catches the light and color reflection from “Amber Drape”; and “Blue Horizon,” a blue glass sky made from glass tiles stitched together, overhead. It creates the feeling of being underwater.
Glassman — I mean Clayman — takes out his phone and shows an image of GFS chief curator Tom Moran standing alongside him at nightfall, peering inside to the illuminated installation.
Invoking Marcel Proust, who describes a character vividly recalling long-forgotten childhood memories while smelling a tea-soaked madeleine cookie, Clayman says he wants people to feel as they do at sunset, as the light comes through the trees, illuminating a summer meadow. “I want to trigger a memory, a feeling,” he says.
By day the amber drape colors the marble floor beneath it; at sunset, “Contracurve” turns amber. “It gives a veiled look of what’s outside and it exceeds my expectations,” says Clayman.
When Moran first contacted the East Providence, Rhode Island-based Clayman about creating an installation in honor of the sculpture grounds’ 25th anniversary, he brought him to visit all the gallery spaces. “When we got to the museum building, Tom said ‘take the whole thing,’” Clayman says. “I wanted to take advantage of the height and architecture, as well as the place where wire rope — a hardware tour de force — was born” (in nearby Trenton at the Roebling Wire Factory.)
Their talks began in January, 2016. Once Clayman conceived the design, using three-dimensional rendering software to draw the schematic, the glass was ordered from Bullseye Glass in Portland, Oregon, which manufactures colored glass for art and architecture. “It is rolled out of a furnace onto a water-cooled table in sheets, then rippled,” says Clayman, who sent his studio manager, Ruby Dorchester, to oversee the process. The glass was crated and shipped to his Rhode Island studio, where it was hand cut. “It’s the sharp edge that picks up the amber color,” he says.
In Clayman’s studio crates were made to fit the glass in sizes that could be lifted. The pine crates alone are a major undertaking. Everything was carefully packed and labeled, and on April 7, along with tool cabinets, loaded onto a semi sent by Grounds For Sculpture. Clayman has been “in residence” since April 10, living above Rat’s Restaurant in what has been termed “Michelangelo’s Makeout Suite” — a name jokingly ascribed to the area that also houses a sculpting studio.
“But there’s no making out here,” says Clayman, whose wife is at home in Rhode Island. The couple has 27-year-old twin daughters, a nanny and the owner of a dog-walking company. “I turned 60 while I was here,” says Clayman. His wife wanted to throw a party for him, but he requested she wait until the project was finished and he returns home.
Dorchester, along with studio assistant Emmett Barnacle, alternate time spent on the job site in Hamilton and back in Rhode Island at the studio. “I obey all the labor laws,” says Clayman, who knows that it’s important to give his staff time off to maintain their energy levels. Dorchester kept hydrated, drinking from a plastic water bottle while working on scaffolding high up in the heat-collecting atrium of the museum building. Clayman considers himself a “super safety nut,” requiring everyone to wear safety glasses and hard hats, and it’s not just for staff — a Grounds For Sculpture engineer vets everything for visitor safety.
Clayman’s crew includes GFS staff, students from Philadelphia whom Clayman knew from his artist-in-residency at Tyler School of Art, and students he worked with during his installation at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (“Rainfield” was made up of 10,000 handmade glass raindrops forming a Roman arch).
“To work with me you have to have aptitude and attitude,” he says. The former, he can teach. The attitude he seeks is “someone who can leave their ego at the door — this is my piece. And they have to be able to think on their feet and have the ability to be pleasant through the long hours of work.”
And while he maintains humane working conditions for his staff, Clayman admits he works 24/7. “It’s at the forefront of my brain even when I go to sleep,” he says. The idea for “Rainfield,” for example, came in a flash. “A soaking wet flash as I walked through a rainstorm in downtown Providence.” With “Rainstorm,” he wanted the viewer to embrace the beauty of the gathering storm.
“I want the visitor to look up, just like I did at the Cathedral at Chartres, and experience the unexpected.”
Born in 1957 in Lynn, Massachusetts, Clayman says he was always a tinkerer. His mother was a radiology technician during World War II and then raised six children. “She was into art and took us to the Boston Symphony and Museum of Fine Art,” he says. His father owned a shoe manufacturing company. “My penchant for making things comes from my father.”
Taking classes in the theater and dance department at Connecticut College, Clayman dropped out to work as a lighting designer for theater, dance, and opera. He began “sculpting with light” and after six years of working with touring companies, enrolled in the glass program at Rhode Island School of Design, earning a bachelor’s of fine arts in 1986.
The glass tiles for “Amber Drape,” “Contracurve,” and “Blue Horizon” all had to be “stitched” together. To do this Clayman had to make 17,000 specialized wire ties. Each copper wire gets individually torched at 2,000 degrees, and as it is cooling Clayman uses the hot copper tip to make drawings. “Each mark is intentional, including the burned holes, making a record of ‘Radiant Landscape’s’ creation,” he says. And while the process of making 17,000 rivets may seem tedious, Clayman says he’s most happy doing this work. The drawings, complete with burn holes in the fine BFK Rives paper, are part of the exhibition. “If they didn’t already think I’m insane, this is proof.”
Upstairs “Three Volumes” represents what Clayman calls the beginning, or what led to his working on a larger scale. They were among the last works completed in his studio in 2012, when he branched out into large-scale work. “I want you to see the skin,” he says of the three sea-glass-blue vessels. “They were cast from remelt, stacked, and glued in layers with an optical epoxy stronger than glass.” Remelt, a byproduct, gives a better glass, Clayman says. This particular remelt comes from a lightbulb factory in Pennsylvania.
Outside the building are three faceted-beveled-glass boulders, lined with gold, copper, and silver leaf. These refer to a boulder he observed in Brookline, Massachusetts, where a yard was being regraded. “I thought about doing a project where they could be reformatted into something extraordinary,” he says. A year later, while in residence at Tyler School of the Arts, he sought to engage students in doing something they had never done before, and he thought of the boulders. “I thought about them for an entire academic year. It is an exercise in taking a mundane object, formed by glaciers, and reformatting it so you see the object labored over.”
Each is a monoprint of the original boulder. This is the first time the boulders will be exhibited outdoors. “They were meant to be outside, where they can weather naturally and get mossy. It’s an experiment,” he admits. “I’ve never seen or made work like this.”
During the entire 24-day installation, Clayman reports, only two pieces of glass broke. That alone inspires awe.
Radiant Landscape, Grounds For Sculpture, 126 Sculptors Way, Hamilton. Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Through February, 2018. $10 to $18. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.