No wonder people were jostling for a look at Jackson Ocheltree's booth at Chicago's 57th Street Art Fair last week. Most glass spheres are small—they're marbles. By comparison, Ocheltree's were giants, the largest a few inches in diameter. In fact until he told the crowd we were looking at marbles, we didn't know.
Each sphere is a technical tour de force forged in a single day-long sitting that requires a small crew. The larger the sphere, the more complex and physically-demanding the challenge. Not only is the glass heavy—a borosilicate similar to pyrex that's virtually unbreakable—but it must be kept at 2800° F for hours on end. (The video embedded above is from a BBC television segment on how small marbles are made. Ocheltree's marbles are significantly more challenging to create.)
There aren't a lot of marble-makers in the world, much less giant marble-makers. Ocheltree was well on his way to a Ph.D. in organic chemistry when he began learning about glass a decade ago. Applied chemistry turned out to be way more fun. Five years in, he started making marbles.
"Glass is very circumstantial. What you're seeing is the result of years of practice and a lot of control," he says. For example, scallops of yellow and green are the condensed fumes of gold and silver. "The gas will travel in the flame of the torch and adhere to the surface of the glass," he explains.
Yet science doesn't quite account for the magic of time, space, movement and the metallic breath of color all captured within an impermeable, transparent sphere. In our world of constant change—not all of it welcome—it is extraordinary to find such a beautiful constant. In a marble, there is peace.
• Jackson Ocheltree's Contact Info | email
• Marble (toy) | Wikipedia
• Venice Glass Museum | website
• How to Play Marbles | Howcast | video
• Playing with Marbles | CBS Sunday Morning | video
• The Universe on Orion's Belt | Men In Black | video