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Throughout history, artists around the globe have been intrigued by the human body. Everything about the body, from its dimensions to its angles, has served as inspiration for some of the world’s most incredible works of art. Today, Bristol Glassworks, based in Rhode Island, offers women and men the opportunity to have their own unique form immortalized in the most spectacular way with custom crystal body casts—a showstopper that makes for the perfect wedding gift to one’s betrothed, or a stunning piece to display in a couple’s first home.

These body casts, part of a collection called “Life Studies,” evolved from co-founder, Steven Weinberg’s vast exploration of glass as a material and the practice of transforming it into an art form. Steven was one of the original pioneers of the American Studio Glass Movement, which began in Ohio in the 1950s. “During this time, glass started being used as an artistic medium, as opposed to a utilitarian object,” describes Sharon Oleksiak, Steven’s partner and Creative Director of Bristol Glassworks. “In the late-1970s, many glass creations were organic and free-flowing, whereas Steven’s pieces displayed geometric elements and a sense of containment.”

Since meeting each other in 1986, Sharon and Steven have leveraged their work with glass into a name that has garnered attention from celebrities like Sir Elton John and Olivia Newton-John who own pieces that grace their homes. They have also been commissioned to create pieces for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Terezin Music Foundation and WIN Against Breast Cancer. Sharon is a firm believer in giving back through many pro bono glass projects.

The Life Studies collection stemmed from an experimental mindset, as nobody was creating such detailed and high quality body casts 25 years ago. “Steven was always pushing the envelope,” says Sharon. “It really started as a challenge to ourselves in terms of seeing how much detail of the human body we could translate into glass. At this point, we can now pick up the tiniest goose bump on someone’s skin and really capture what makes us each individuals and human.”

Since the body casts are made from custom molds, it’s an exciting and interactive process for any bride to experience. “You need to be adventuresome to do it,” Sharon advises. “It’s really for someone who wants to do something different. You’re making a print. It’s like a photograph from a certain time and a certain place in your life. Something that you will have forever as a marker of that time.”

The body casts are made of optical quality crystal and can weigh up to 180 pounds. After the mold is created, raw glass is slumped into the cavity of the mold and then fired in a kiln. “Glass is a very temperamental material, so you need to treat it very gently,” notes Sharon. “A casting can take up to two weeks in the kiln. We bring the temperature up and down very slowly.” Once the firing is complete, the mold is removed from the kiln and broken apart to reveal the crystal form within. The mold can never be used again, guaranteeing each cast is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

“This is the first time we’re opening up this service to women and men who want to have a cast of their body in crystal,” Sharon states. “I think it has to do with timing and society being more comfortable with nudity, freedom and pride about the body. If we’re going to add objects to the world, they should be well-designed and thoughtful. Glass is a sustainable material, made from sand. It’s something really beautiful, because glass has been around for 5,000 years. Yet while it is ancient, it is also contemporary and highly technical—that has always appealed to me. I’m a believer in designing objects of beauty that are not to be thrown away. Well-designed glass will stand the test of time and age well.”

Steven Weinberg has work in the permanent collections of 60 art museums around the world. These include the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Palais du Louvre in Paris, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

> Written by Lauren Malamala

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