Kuala Lumpur's oldest mosque

Introduction to Malaysia

A week and a half ago Jay and I returned from travels in Malaysia. We sought an adventure to celebrate our upcoming 45th wedding anniversary plus inspiration for glass work, and we got both.

Street food stalls in Kuala Lumpur
Jalan Alor night market
On February 26 we arrived in Kuala Lumpur and were welcomed to the lovely Anguun Boutique Hotel by friendly staff who gave us cool, wet cloths and chilled lemon-ginger tea. After changing from our cold climate clothes to something suitable for 91 degrees F and high humidity, we ventured out into the heat. Our hotel was near Jalan Alor, a street lined with restaurants and food stalls. For our first meal in Malaysia we tried nasi campur (“mixed rice”) after watching how it is done. A man handed each of us an orange melamine plate with a large mound of rice, to which we ladled our picks from about three dozen stir fries and other savories set out in metal trays. His wife calculated how much each plate was worth, writing the number on a small gray card that we took with us. Our two full plates cost a total of about $5.

In the evening we walked to China Town to explore highly decorated temples, more food stalls, and the old wet market now crowded with vendors hawking knock-off merchandise. Dinner was traditional Chinese chicken-and-rice hot pot, cooked over charcoal and served by the stall proprietor, eaten while we watched crowds of locals and visitors enjoying the end of the day. Malaysians typically eat after 7 pm.

Clock Tower square, Kuala Lumpur
Old Chinese shophouses
On our second day in KL we explored as much as we dared in the heat: the old market square, the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers where the city was founded and location of Masjid Jamek (the city’s oldest mosque), Merdeka Square (where British colonial rule ceremoniously ended in 1957), and Little India. We ate roti (flaky Indian bread) and nasi goreng with chicken (Indian version of fried rice) in a mamah mamek while chatting with a young Indian Muslim couple. In the evening, back on Jalan Alor, we decided on a satay stall, selecting skewers of lamb, jellyfish, frilled mushrooms, and bok choy to be cooked for us.

Tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands
BOH tea plantation
Having been part of the British empire, Malaysians drive on the left side of the road. Although we didn’t drive in the country, we still found traffic disorienting. We had to remember from which direction traffic was likely to hit us as we crossed a street and we had to adjust to traffic that seemed aggressive compared to U.S. rules of the road. We began traveling highways with a driver on our third morning in the country, climbing up into the Cameron Highlands. We traveled the four-lane North-South Highway and secondary two-lane highways in addition to busy city streets. I had to stop watching the road lest I gasp every time a speeding car passed us and barely made it back into the left lane without hitting an oncoming vehicle. Motorbikes are ubiquitous and ignore lanes altogether, even in the city, weaving in and around other vehicles at high rates of speed. But why keep an eye on traffic when the scenery was so beautiful?

Aboriginal hut
Orang Asli dwelling
For two days we traveled up the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Tea plantations in the highlands truly looked like a thick green carpet, laid wall-to-wall over the steep mountain slopes and into their folds. Also in the highlands, where the temperature is moderate and steady, gardens producing vegetables and fruits for the cities covered terraces and appeared to require extremely sure-footed farmers to tend and harvest them. North of the highlands, plantings gave way to rainforest where Orang Asli (“original people” or indigenous people) still live. We began seeing wild orchids and long-tailed macaques. In some areas rainforest was cleared for palm plantations to produce oil, the primary Malaysian export product. There are also remnants of old rubber plantations and, close to the coast, mangrove forests.

Nine of the Malaysian states are ruled by hereditary sultanates. We visited Kuala Kangsar, royal city for the state of Perak, to see the magnificent mosque and huge palace. Not only the gorgeous domes but also the name of the Ubudiah Mosque inspired me, for it means “I surrender to the Almighty.” That day our guide explained much about Malaysian government and Muslim practices, as well as Malaysian agriculture.

At the end of our second day on the road we crossed a long bridge to the island of Penang and entered George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage City. In the evening we went to Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption, built in 1857 for a parish established in the 1700s. That evening we tried local favorites for dinner, including rojak, a tropical fruit salad liberally doused with brown coconut sugar syrup, sesame seed, and chopped peanuts.

bustling Weld Quay clan jetty
Chew Clan Jetty
Hindu temple door paintings
King Street temple doors, George Town
On Sunday we walked around George Town in the heat, and the sights were worth it. Shopkeepers in Little India splashed yellow paint outside their doorsteps for good fortune. Bright paintings towered over us at the entrance to the Sri Mariamman Temple, and other temples fascinated us with their ornateness. Life bustled on the Chew Jetty but was quiet on the Lee Jetty, two of seven piers where Chinese clans live in low houses built out over the Strait of Malacca. After retreating into the cool hotel for ice water and a rest, we set off again in late afternoon. We walked to the north shore, past Fort Cornwallis and the Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, until it was time to look for supper.

To our delight we found a small night market, that Malaysian Chinese wonder combination of open air food court and home cooking. We fell in love that night with char kuay teow and were dazzled by the cook’s lightening speed as he stirred his wok over a charcoal fire. We also had to try prawn mee soup and, in lieu of dessert, a “four-fruit soup” (ginko, lotus seed, longan, and red beans) served with ice.

Thus ended our fifth day in Malaysia. And this must end my first installment telling about our adventure.

kilnformed Starfire drape bowl

Fourteen out of twenty

Kiln-formed bowl using Starfire drape mold
Amber Swirl wavy bowl
Our next exhibit will be with the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show on the first weekend of April (April 4-6) at the 23rd Street Armory. PIFS is the longest running national craft show featuring furniture and furnishings. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the PIF show (originally named the Philadelphia Furniture Show). It also marks our fourteenth year being accepted by the show jury to exhibit with them.

Kiln-formed pasta bowl
“Turquoise Swirl” pasta bowl
As usual the show will feature a wonderful array of artisan made goods: furniture in many styles, glassware (of course!), ceramics, textiles, clocks, wall art, and probably more. The high level of craftsmanship and the diversity of styles makes for a wonderful tour through the aisles. Jay and I take turns looking around and examining other artisans’ work when we’re not too busy in our own booth. We both enjoy learning about how other fine crafts people fabricate their pieces. At a show like PIFS all you have to do is talk to a vendor and ask a question or two and you can learn a lot.

Kiln-formed Classic bowl
Blue Swirl serving bowl
Jay and I have been working on some new fused glass designs that will debut at the show. We’ll probably be making, baking, and taking things from the kiln up until show week. You’re getting a sneak preview of a few pieces here.

Kiln-formed candle holder
4-candle bridge
A Preview Party benefiting the Philadelphia Art Alliance is set for Friday, April 4, from 6 to 9 pm. Special guests, music, food, and a live auction during the party will kick off the 20th anniversary celebration of the show. Preview Party ticket prices and details are posted on the show website.

Fused glass square plate
“Doradus” kiln-formed plate
Saturday hours are 10:00 am to 7 pm. Sunday hours are 10 am to 5 pm. Request a half-off admission card from us and we can send it via email. Otherwise show tickets are $12 advance purchase from the show website or $15 at the door. You can also purchase a $20 combined day pass that will get you in both Saturday and Sunday.

If you go to the show, there’s easy parking in a ramp across the alley from the 23rd Street Armory. While you’re there you might want to try one of the good restaurants in the area. Last year Jay and I had a good dinner at Aya’s Cafe in the Logan Square area a few blocks from the show. Aya’s has a Mediterranean menu and is open for lunch and dinner. The year before we ate a delicious lunch at the Erawan, which claims to be the first Thai restaurant in Philadelphia. The Erawan is just down the street from the Armory at 123 S 23rd Street.

Center triptych panel

Abstracted color, naturally

Thogerson stairwell, partial
Top and middle Cattleya windows
Last month I wrote about a window commission from thirty years ago. It has remained a favorite project because it turned out to be a design break-through for me. The Cattleya and Yellow Lady-slipper windows are the first examples of what later came to be my signature style in glass design. It took another decade or so for me to attempt the style again, and to make it my own.

The best way I can describe what I do is that I start with a theme from nature, emphasize shapes, and run color through the design abstractly. We might call it my naturalistic abstract style.

If you look at the lead lines in two of the Cattleya windows you can make out the outlines of the flower petals, leaves, rhizomes and roots. Yet the flower is not the color of any known orchid; it is a mix of brown tones and teal.

To plan hues for the design, I thought of color passages running through it. I started with the client’s accent color, teal, and let it flow through the design in whatever path it seemed to want to take. Then I flowed one of the brown tones through, and so on until I’d incorporated the design’s entire palette. It was a matter of intuition, experimentation, and adjustment until I saw what I envisioned.

Dawgert dining room windows
Blest Are They Who Stand Upon Their Vow
That is still the intuitive method I use and it can take many hours or even days to discover the right flow. Back then I painted acetates over and over until I got it right. Now I can manipulate the colors on the computer. Sometimes I move lead lines to get the colors to flow properly.

Another example of abstracted color in a design from nature is a pair of dining room windows commissioned by a couple to celebrate a significant wedding anniversary. Orchids are a symbol of love so I returned to that motif. However after twenty years I took more risks in this abstraction. The panels have both solid color and streaky mouth-blown glass plus hand-poured opalescent glass (which also has a streaked appearance). The streaky colors and the opaqueness of the opalescent glass add complexity and a new dimension to the mix. The flow of the different colors and textures is not the same; each has it’s own direction. This dynamic pair of windows is titled, “Blessed Are They Who Stand Upon Their Vow,” inspired by line in a poem by Jessica Powers.

Wenzel stained glass installation
Rose Et Bleu
Notice also how both the “Blessed” and Cattleya windows incorporate some lead that is wider than the rest. That is another intentional design element.

The third example is this set of three clerestory windows. Simple outlines of the petals in a full-blown rose led to my design. Colors, inspired by the clients’ oriental rug, are several blues, purple, and a blue-and-purple streaky, all mouth-blown glass. The colors flow across the entire span of windows.

Brown stained glass installation
Tree Wings
The next example is a smaller design inspired by maple seeds, those prolific, winged fruits of the big trees. This is a simple design for a 17″ x 17″ powder room window. Outlines of the seedlings are repeated three times and then filled in with two different kinds of glass—-stipple ice white opalescent and a brownish-red mouth-blown glass. Color flow is generally from upper right to lower left.

Stained glass triptych
In this triptych named Triphyllum (the scientific name for the jack-in-the-pulpit plant), all but one color is abstracted. I chose to execute the flower petals in the same very light green hue, using reamy glass, while abstracting the leaves and background in blue-green, chrome green, and violet. That singular consistency emphasizes the flower, one that I find only infrequently in the woods.

I don’t know what started me down the path of abstraction. However the style works well for me and many of our clients.