7 June 2024

Thanks for everything Roxanne, say ANU art students, it's been a real gas

| Sally Hopman
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Woman at glass blowing furnace

Student Isobel Waters opens Roxanne the gas furnace for the last time in the ANU’s glass workshop. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU.

Roxanne, you do have to put on the red light … those days are over. Just like the song, at least Canberra’s version, Roxanne is no longer hot stuff.

It’s the end of an era for Canberra’s Roxanne, an old gas-fired furnace that, for almost a decade, has been used to fire up the creative works of students at the ANU’s School of Art and Design Glass Workshop.

Named Roxanne – because that’s the brand name stamped on her front – she’s been a favourite for students and teachers, but according to the head of the ANU’s Glass Workshop, Dr Jeffrey Sarmiento, she’s come to the end of her life cycle.

“We are working to future-proof our workshop,” Dr Sarmiento said.

“We know there is a push in the ACT to eliminate gas, so we are working to lower our carbon footprint. ”

He described Roxanne as the centre of attention when students gathered to work together, so decommissioning her was “a big deal”.

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“For me, I wanted to reach out to the alumni to come back and blow glass for this last time. I wanted to celebrate our community. The ANU glass workshop is internationally famous. Many artists took their first works out of the furnace, so we wanted to give them a reason to come back.”

The reason, of course, had to be a party.

Graduates from different years were invited to return to the ANU, including two of the country’s leading glassblowers, Annette Blair and Tom Rowney.

“It was wonderful,” Dr Sarmiento said, “and quite rare to have all the graduates come back and for everyone to be in the same room.”

To mark the occasion and Roxanne’s last firing, students past and present were invited to create a work that would go into a large glass vessel as a time capsule.

“We tinted the furnace a special blue colour for the day. We’ve never done that before, but we did it so all the glass that came out would be the same colour. We wanted the colour to mark a poignant time, where everyone who added a piece matched.”

Man near kiln with table of blue glass objects

Dr Jeffrey Sarmiento with the last glass pieces fired in Roxanne and the vessel in which they will be placed in memory of the old kiln. Photo: Catherine Newton.

The vessel created to hold everything weighed more than 7 kg and was almost half a metre tall.

“We wanted it to be this big so it could hold all the pieces,” he said. “But I have to say it was very heavy on the end of the blowing pipe.”

Some of the pieces going into the time capsule included standard works like goblets, bowls and cups, but also some more unusual items like a cactus with a hat, a seahorse and a bird’s skull.

With roof works scheduled for the glass-blowing workshop, the area will close for a semester. During that time, an electric furnace will be installed in the workshop to replace Roxanne.

But she won’t be forgotten. The huge blue vessel, with all the special works inside, will be displayed in a workshop window for all to see.

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