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This as-yet-unnamed beauty is a cross between two species of Masdevallia, M. velifera and M. vietchiana.photo by Ron Dahlquist
Vol. 8, No. 2
April/May 2005


Heart of Glass 

by Julia Steele
photo by Jim Shea

Kathy Cowan gives cast-off bottles
and louvers new life at
Kauai Recycling for the Arts.

At Kauai Recycling for the Arts, they don’t worry about whether the glass is half empty or half full—they just melt it and turn it into something else. Outside the doors of this innovative facility sit the leftovers of a thirsty community: bins filled with thousands of green, brown and clear glass bottles; there are stacks of old louvers, too. Inside, in a huge furnace, that glass is morphed into a fiery orange liquid that is close to 2,200 degrees. Sculptor Kathy Cowan—wearing thick gloves to protect against the heat—is dipping a large ladle into the molten soup and then pouring the liquid into a mold. It may become any one of a number of things: soap dishes, sushi platters, paperweights, tiles, beads.

"We’re still in the product development stage," says Kathy, who is one of the directors of the newly opened glassworking studio; she mentions a grant they just received to do steppingstones for the clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Club. As we talk, another of the studio’s directors, Ed Steckley, is working on a freeform glass sculpture, twisting, cutting, cooling and reheating what started as an amorphous blob and is now looking a lot like a graceful branch of coral.

Planes fly overhead, for we are just minutes from the Lihue airport, out back behind the island’s recycling

center; it’s here, with government grants and a dream of sustainability, that Kathy, Ed and other artists on Kaua‘i have set up a state-of-the-art studio, with kilns, ovens, "glory holes" for reheating glass, and the furnace, which can hold 465 pounds of glass. So far, they’ve introduced hundreds of island school kids to the studio. "They were really excited," says Kathy. "They wanted to stay!" Small wonder, since many were given the chance to make glass molds of their very own hands. They were also taught to think about "trash" in a whole new way: as material that is just at a way station on the journey to a new life. –Julia Steele

Kaua‘i Recycling for the Arts