Glass behaves very differently from materials like metal or clay. It is sometimes described as a “super cooled liquid” (Tait 1995). This is because of how it reacts whilst being manipulated; it keeps its gloopy consistency, making it malleable and holds its structure as it hardens. This is due to its ability to resist a change in the molecular structure as it “retains the random molecular structure of a liquid” (Klien and Lloyd 2000) This is the reason why it can handle being heated to such a high temperature, also why it must be cooled slowly especially for more fragile thin blown wares as it can crack or shatter when exposed to sudden changes in heat and impact. PIC
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There are many different theories about when and where glass was discovered. There is a fairly well known myth that sailors discovered glass by accident as they used “blocks of natron, which is an alkali they were carrying as cargo. The fire supposedly melted the sand, forming a small stream of glass that eventually cooled and hardened.” (Wertheimer, J 2003) This was claimed by a roman who wanted to glass be known as a roman discovery. It is however widely accepted that the first basic recipe used for glass was discovered in the bronze age 2,5000 BC east in the antiquity of Mesopotamia. The first basic ingredients were sand soda and lime and these were the materials used up until the invention of lead glass in the 17th century. The main pieces being produced before Glass blowing was introduced were core formed pieces, casting methods, and mosaic glass.
The technique of free blowing; a variation of glass blowing as we know it today, is documented to have been invented late 1st Century BC In the Syro Palestine region (modern Israel) However it is said that glass blowing was first discovered in the old city of Jerusalem where some disused glass tubes were found and recycled. They were heated at one end, sealed shut and the other end blown through forming small bottles.
The Romans were the forerunners of glass throughout the world. Before the Augustine period (27BC), there was virtually no glass being produced throughout the world. However by the end of the Julian Claudian era the Roman Empire spanned the entire Mediterranean basin including central and Western Europe. One of the reasons glass blowing was so popular to the romans was because of how vast quantities of table wares could be produced quickly and easily especially in comparison with ceramics. Popularity in glass blowing grew even further with the realisation that hinged moulds could be used for mould blowing. This meant that designs for glass no longer had to be tapered should they use a mould. pic
The skills and knowledge of glass blowing spread rapidly as the romans invaded different countries and this marked an end to many of the major ceramic industries throughout the world. The knowledge of glass blowing declined as the dark ages grew upon the world during the Middle Ages and glass making and the skills and knowledge of glass blowing became almost non-existent. However the knowledge remained in places like Venice. “Venetian glass blowers created some of the most delicate and graceful glass the world had ever seen.” (Glazzette 2010)
Venetian glass had an important influence within the glass blowing world. As the Islamic empire waned and trade declined throughout the world, Venice grew to become a centre point of trade for the east and the west. “In the early 1200’s the venetian glassmakers’ guild was formed.” (Glassblowing.com) It was during a time when glass blowing was a very secretive craft. Glass makers in Venice were forced to move to Murano to control the glass blowing industry. Glassblowers and their families were not allowed to leave the island to keep the knowledge of glass blowing a secret.
Glass was first introduced into Britain by the Romans and the same basic free blowing methods mentioned previous remained paramount until around 1610 when coal furnaces became prevalent. The furnaces used when heating glass for glass blowing were in most cases burning 24hours a day. These wood burning furnaces would use vast quantities of wood and were attributing to Britain’s rapidly declining woodlands. “A British patent was granted to a sir W slingby for coal furnaces to replace wood” (Vauxhall glass), and by 1615 it was made illegal to have wood burning furnaces for glass production. The ingredients and methods for glass blowing had to be changed and the fumes had to be rerouted to keep them away from the glass and the blowers. This made way for the English glass cone furnaces. The cone furnaces made enough of a draught to produce heat at a higher intensity and it was a useful contribution to glass production. pic
In 1746 glass tax was introduced and this meant a huge decline in Blown wares being produced in England. Glass tax was 300% which is a highly unfair tax. All over Britain in a bid to reduce waste and save money, experimental glass blowing and production outside of factories hugely declined because people simply couldn’t afford it and glass tax was labelled the most outrageous tax ever to have been forced upon us. In the 1820’s there was a further decline in blown wares being produced in Britain with the invention of pressed glass. Vast quantities of table wares could be produced in a highly efficient manner; skilled blowers were replaced with cheap labour sometimes at best a mechanic. The method of pressing glass gives much less room for mistake. Plain and patterned glass could be duplicated at ease minimising waste. This enabled vast quantities to be manufactured quickly and easily, in a highly cost effective manner. This was one of the lowest points of glass blown production in Britain because of the dramatic decline in blown glass being produced and the lack of experimentation within the craft at this time. However, the glass tax was lifted in 1845 and many guilds and societies sprung up across the UK where Artists could begin experimenting with glass thus the craft; glass blowing arose once again.
Before the 1900’s most consumable grains and liquids were stored in ceramic containers, however it was the Victorians demand for seeing what they bought that brought a new market for glass containers. This demand was fulfilled with the invention of glass blowing machines. Many glass bottles and jars were put into production during this time, PIC
Studio glass was a term coined by the American craft movement as a way to differentiate between utilitarian factory glass and traditional craft glass which is more a home based activity. The studio glass movement arose from a growing distaste of mass produced factory glass which was increasingly viewed as tacky and created without skill. ” The distinction between the studio and its perceived opposite, the factory, permits glass artists to distinguish their work from the industrial and from traditional craft,.” American studio glass 1960-1990 martha drexer nlunnn *
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Studio glass became a firmly established part of the British craft scene and some could say its responsible for a revival in glass blowing after the British craft scene was greatly influenced by American hot glass trends from the 1960’s. “A further spur to the movement came from the scientific glass blowers used to lamp working with borosilicate glass several of which had produced “art” glass over a long period of time” (British studio glass*) During the 1960’s education in glass blowing was a lot less hands on than what was desired in studio glass, “the royal college of art would employ craftsmen and blowers to make forms for students and they would rarely be given the opportunity to learn to blow or make their own pieces” however in America artists began working “directly with molton glass to explore its potential” Ray flavell british art Britain continued to be influenced by the rapidly growing attention to American and European glass blowing and “glass blowing was a major thrust of the new movement of glass making in the uk”
An important part of glass blowing and its revival throughout the centuries is how each generation looks at glass making again and re-examines its possibilities this is how it has been allowed to be revived again and again. Today the focus of glass making definitely doesn’t focus solely on glass blowing but may use it as a basis. generally as our knowledge of the possibilities of using glass as a material has grown throughout the ages a more mixed media approach of combining many skills together like blowing, moulding, casting, colouring, cutting, engraving, trailing, are often combined to make these desirable contemporary works, which epitomise the studio glass movement which is still flourishing today. Many contemporary glass Artists may focus their work on one particular aspect and technique whilst combining different techniques.
Emma Woffenden is a great example of a contemporary glass artist who utilises many different techniques whilst using glass blowing as a basis and starting point. She focuses on creating representations of the human figure, and then uses other techniques like paint, sand blasting or grinding. She is well known for her sculpture and also does installations. Her representations of the human figure include a bubble which “has come to represent the figure in an early or embryonic stage” (breathtaking.org), or the claw which represents a hand or limbs.
Rachael Woodman is a British born contemporary glass artist highly recognised for her studio glass art. Her methods are based on the free blowing technique, where she produces highly polished pieces. She is well known for using bright and dramatic colours and for collaborating with Neil Wilkin in Blowing. She has designed at Dartington crystal in Devon only 25 minutes’ drive away from my home town! A dealer Adrian Sassoon who deals specifically in Contemporary British Studio works of art.
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