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The History and Art of Glassblowing

Glass blowing

Glassblowing has been around since ancient times, but recent, modern advancements have made it increasingly available to the general public. The studio glass movement of the 1960s has blossomed into today’s artisanal glass market, with technology leaving the massive industrial furnaces of yesteryear by the wayside in favor of much smaller furnaces, and allowing for the proliferation of studios nationwide, including those alongside neighborhood retail and restaurant venues catering to the “crafty” consumer.

What is glassblowing?

Though equipment and glassblowing supplies have been modernized, the glassblowing process is much the same today as it was at its inception. Molten glass, a superheated mixture of silica (sand), soda or pot ash, and limestone is inflated into a bubble via the use of a blowpipe. As air is inserted, the glass expands and becomes hollow. With the manipulation of movement (gravity) and hand tools, different shapes can be created. Reheating of the object allows for its manipulation as many time as is needed. How hot is molten glass? Temperatures of over 2,400-2,900 degrees Fahrenheit are necessary for molding. Once complete, glass designs are placed in an annealing oven to slowly cool for several hours to relieve stress and prevent breaking.

Where did glassblowing start?

Glassblowing history accounts differ on the origin of the ancient art, which remained a highly guarded secret for many years. What is known? Pre-Roman civilizations spanning the Middle East, Greece, China and more were producing glass, but though glassmakers were making vessels, blowing had not yet been discovered. Venice became the dominate epicenter of the craft from 1200-1400 AD, where glass workers were held virtual prisoners on the island of Murano to maintain a glass blowing monopoly, after which the much coveted crafters either escaped or were kidnapped, and the knowledge quickly spread. Even the facilitation of Thomas Edison’s light bulb involved the help of a glassblower!

A Driving Force

Much of glassblowing's popularity is due in part to today’s amazing artists, including…

  • Industry pioneer Lino Tagliapietra, whose time-tested processes and techniques are now the industry norm, and whose custom colors and designs grace museums and galleries worldwide.
  • World-renowned Dale Chihuly, whose large-scale sculptures are instantly recognizable and found from Vegas casinos to noteworthy venues.
  • Ginny Ruffner’s glass sculptures have paved the way for “torchworked” glass art across the globe. Her art is in a massive 42 permanent museum collections worldwide.
  • The face of the studio glass movement, William Morris, whose skilled hands masterfully craft blown glass into intriguingly lifelike art, offering a window into the past.
  • One of the few prominent artists to utilize the unique process of flameworking, Robert Mickelson years of hard work earned his work spots in venues such as the Renwick Gallery of American Arts and Crafts at the Smithsonian, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Carnegie Museum of Art.
  • Famous for his realistic glass jellyfish sculptures, Rick Satava’s work is sought by private and corporate collectors, and was even featured in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

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