Glassblowing is NOT Like Papermaking

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that glass is different from paper; one is three-dimensional, the other is two; one breaks when you drop it, the other doesn’t; one requires major physical labor and sweat to produce, the other only a simple and meditative process. I did know these things when I signed up for a two-day intensive glassblowing course, so I went to East Falls Glassworks prepared to step outside my comfort zone. Guess what, it wasn’t all that bad! At the low points, I was exhausted, sweaty, and covered in charred newspaper from the cooling pad, but my efforts were channeled into producing beautiful, hand-crafted objects that will make wonderful gifts and possible additions to my portfolio.

Me working on a vessel, day 2 (photo by Eric Saperstein)

Early in day 1, the instructors, Ben and Chris, demoed the art of blowing a glass vessel. It looked so simple. What they failed to express was that the multiple steps have to happen quickly or you could end up heating and re-heating the vessel every time you want to make an adjustment…or, worst case scenario, you could accidentally drop a piece on the floor and crack it! Yes, my second cup broke at the very end of the process and I wanted to cry. From that I learned the importance of relinquishing control and working as a team! It takes a minimum of 3 people to produce a glass vessel: the gaffer (the artist, I guess you could say) and 1-2 assistants, depending on their skill and the level of difficulty/size of the piece. You can read more about the process and history of glassblowing on the East Falls Glassworks website, or on wikipedia (sorry to be referencing wikipedia, but glassblowing resources are less than abundant).

Mosaic glass perfume bottle, 1st century BCE-early 1st century CE, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As early as the first century BC, artisans began blowing glass vessels instead of forming and casting them. It’s amazing how beautiful and sophisticated the forms looked, even at this early stage. Glass provides a solution to many utilitarian needs, but also serves as decoration in vases, chandeliers, stained glass, and jewelry. Dale Chiuly is a contemporary artist using glass in a utilitarian and aesthetic fashion. Chiuly plays with the material in a fantastical way, making pieces that are colorful, whimsical, and flourish commercially as well as in a fine art setting. Chiuly is a great contrast to Josiah McElheny, another contemporary glass artist who uses the medium conceptually. To me, McElhey takes a very traditional craft and transforms it into something that is thought-provoking while still being formally intriguing. Good luck to the conservators, though, because mirrored glass is not something I’d like to deal with!

Dale Chiuly, The Sun, 2008, de Young Museum

Josiah McElheny, Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism, 2007, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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