The Art Of Glass Making
When we think about art with a capital A, we think of ancient Greek sculptures or the world’s most famous baroque paintings, but works of glass don’t immediately come to mind. However, glass art has been around for much longer than oil painting has, with the added bonus that it’s not just decorative but it can also be a functional medium!
Different Types of Glass Art
Generally speaking, glass art is the umbrella term used for all individual works of art that are substantially or completely made of glass. There are many types of glass art and the differences between them mainly relate to the techniques that are used in the manufacturing process. These different techniques can be divided into three categories: hot glass, warm glass and cold glass.
1) 'Hot glass' works are born through a process of melting, which requires a temperature of around 2000 degrees.
2) On the other hand, 'warm glass' works can be produced by simply heating glass in an oven or kiln to manipulate its form.
3) Glass may also be 'cold worked', changing the surface of the glass by using techniques that involve tools or chemicals.
One of the oldest known and most traditional techniques is glass blowing, an example of a 'hot'method. Using a blow tube (or pipe), the glassblower blows air into the liquid glass, inflating it to produce a specific form and then allowing it to gradually cool down and harden.
The earliest evidence of glass blowing was found in the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and on the edges of Western Asia, formerly known as Phoenicia, stemming from the 1st century BC. It was quickly adopted by the Romans and then spread across Europe and Northern Africa.
Egyptian glassblowers from the 12th dynasty (approximately 2,200 BC)
The most common form of hot working is still glass casting, which is done by pouring molten glass into a mold. Glass artists that use this technique often also work with pâte de verre, a paste that is made up of grit granules and held together by a gum. It can be applied to the inner surface of a mold to create a rich effect on the skin of the glass.
Art Noveau vase made by the 'pâte de verre-technique', 1925
Slumping can be seen as a typical example of the “warm” glass technique and occurs at a maximum of 1400 degrees. At this temperature, flat plates or sheets of glass will start to bend. They may be placed over a mold or left to flow freely, allowing gravity to do its work. Separate pieces of glass can also be fused together at a slightly higher temperature of 1600 degrees.
And if you have ever heard of frosted glass then it wasn’t intended as a pun, it is actually a very common “cold” technique. It refers to the surface of the glass being etched away (hence why it is also referred to as etched glass), which can be done using either acid or by sandblasting the glass.
Cold techniques are often combined with hot and warm techniques to add texture to the skin of casted or molded pieces. Similarly, hot and warm techniques are sometimes combined by first blowing the glass and then placing it in the oven to shape it into the desired form.
Historical Examples of Glass Art
Throughout history, there have been many fine examples of glass art that were both decorative and functional.
First and foremost, the Roman mastering and perfecting of the glass blowing technique coincided with the rise of the Roman empire, resulting in an enormous production of glassware. Most of the elaborately shaped jugs and jars that remain today were actually used by merchants to transport and market their goods, whereas drinking vessels such as gladiator cups were made to be sold as collectibles or souvenirs.
Roman Gladiator Cup blown in a two-part mold, ca. A.D. 50-80 (The Met)
The world famous Gothic stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
Stained glass windows are by far the most emblematic example of glass art in the middle ages and still remain largely intact, another testimony to great craftsmanship. Less obvious is the fact that medieval church glass was almost always hand-blown, resulting in either cylinder glass or crown glass. In both cases, a bubble of air had to be blown into a gather of molten glass, which was then either manipulated into a cylinder to be cut in half and flattened, or spun around to allow the centrifugal force to cause the bubble to open up and flatten. The varying colours were created through adding different metallic salts during the manufacturing process.
Venetian Murano Glass Chandelier
In 1291, the Venetian island of Murano became the epicenter of Venetian glass production and would continue to hold a monopoly over high-quality glass making for centuries to come, something that was largely due to its innovativeness.
The skillful Murano glass makers developed and refined several different techniques and crafted anything from luxury tableware to jewellery.
Around 1700 Murano introduced the first glass chandeliers, heavily decorated with garlands, flowers and leaves, calling them “bouquets”. These characteristic chandeliers instantly became a huge success and are still being produced today.
Art Nouveau and Art Deco Glass Art
The Daum crystal studio in Nancy was founded in 1878 by Jean Daum and became the market leader in Art Nouveau decorative glass around the turn of the century, under the leadership of his sons Auguste and Antonin.
They were known for combining several techniques to create elaborate vases and for reviving 'the pâte de verre' technique.
In 1905, the Art Nouveau jeweller René Lalique opened a shop in Paris where he also started selling his handmade perfume bottles. The craft clearly suited him, as Lalique decided to devote himself entirely to glass making by establishing a factory in Alsace in 1921.
There, he developed a technique of contrast between clear and frosted glass, whilst also applying more geometric designs, eventually leading to Lalique being crowned as the master of Art Deco glassworks at the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris.
Daum Frères Art Nouveau vase (above) and (below) an Art Deco vase
Contemporary Glass Art
Nowadays, the rules of glass art have become much less strict and there are several artists that are reinventing the craft in their own, authentic ways.
For example, the Yugoslavian artist Jelena Popadic (1964) creates glass objects that are decorated with symmetrical patterns which refer to cell structures, using different techniques.
This glass-blown Amber Granate was further shaped through applying a deep sandblasting technique to create an amazing contrast between the more matted deep reliefs and the polished and transparent protruding elements.
Jelena Popadic, Amber Granate, 2011.
On the contrary, Susan Hammond’s (UK, 1960) glass objects are more tranquil and free flowing, yet there is something monumental about them.
Inspired by nature, the emptiness in and around these glass-blown structures also interacts with the piece, leaving its muted colour tones to serve only as an accent.
Susan Hammond, NT, 2017
Lastly, Bernard Heesen’s (NL, 1958) innovational aspirations fit well into the Dutch Leerdam glassmaking tradition.
Fortuity plays a big part in the expression and the form of his glass-blown products, vases and arabesques that can often be found at the crossroads of craftsmanship and industry and art and kitsch, elements of irony that Heesen likes to play within his work.
Bernard Heesen, Aiguière, 2017
At Gallerease you can find an extensive online collection of antique, modern and contemporary glass art. Visit also the online profiles of Peter Korf de Gidts, Kunstzalen A. Vecht, Lennart Booij Fine Art and Rare Items, Antes Art 1900, Passage Arts, Het Ware Huis, Galerie Carla Koch to discover more of these glass gems!