The Timeless Art of Glass Making

“Throughout [the] long history of glassblowing, skilled men endured the tremendous heat to coax beautiful forms from the fire using nothing more than their breath and a few simple tools… each creation was as individual as the maker” (Thrall).

Glass was first believed to be made in Mesopotamia, dating back to 3000 BC, and has even been compared to gold in the Bible (Job 28:17).  Vases made from hollow glass production was found in Mesopotamia in the 16th century.  During this time, the art form was also evolving in Egypt, Greece and China.  Due to the slow process of wrapping glass around another solid object (made of clay and dung), glass making was costly and only affordable by the wealthy.

Around the end of the first century, the  popular art of glass blowing was discovered in Syria, where artists blew through a hollow tube to shape molten glass.  This new art form was adopted by the Roman Empire and quickly spread to many countries, where even the common people could afford it.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, the popularity of glass started to dwindle down in Europe, but continued to spread in Iran, Iraq and Egypt.  In the 12th Century, a different form of glass took precedence in Europe, which was the popular stained glass windows used for cathedrals and monasteries.

By the end of the 13th century, glass blowing was once again revived in Europe by the Venetians, who may have learned their techniques through contacts with the Eastern countries during the Crusades.

So what is glass really made of?  Glass mainly consists of silica (sand), a little bit of lime, and a little bit of soda, that all has to be melted at a temperature of 3,600 degrees Farenheit.  Due to the presence of iron in sand, the glass usually has a greenish tint.  For the finest glass, artists much search for the finest white sand.  In 1676, George Ravenscroft discovered that adding lead oxide to the glass composition creates a more brilliant, sparkle.  This new “lead crystal” is much softer than regular glass and easier to cut.

During the Industrial Revolution, people sought after ways to mass produce glass.  In 1903, Michael Owen invented an automatic bottle blowing machine that could produce 2500 bottles per hour.  90% of today’s manufactured flat glass still uses Sir Alastair Pilkington’s float glass production method that was introduced in the late 1950’s.  Today, modern glass plants can make millions of glass containers in a day with many different colors, most likely adopted from John P. Bakewell’s invention of the pressed glass in the 1800’s.

In 1962 Harvey Littleton, a ceramics professor, and Dominick Labino, a chemist and engineer, discovered that some glass could be melted at a low temperature, allowing for it to be reshaped using small home-studio furnaces.  This discovery brought on a rebirth of art glass studios, workshops and schools in the United States and has spread both nationally and internationally.  Several of the most common techniques for producing glass art include: blowing, kiln-casting, fusing, slumping, pate-de-verre, flame-working, hot-sculpting and cold-working.

“Once again, men and women stand in front of the glaring heat of furnaces and glory holes with a blowpipe in hand and a vision in their heads, ready to bring form to the molten liquid before them with their breath and a few tools, roughly the same tools the Romans used over two thousand years ago” (Thrall).

Read more about the history of glass here:

Some examples of glass art I found on Google, for your inspiration 🙂

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Works Cited:

Kinsale Crystal.  “The History of Glass Making.” Web. 7 January 2012 “The History of Glass Making.” Web. 7 January 2012

Thrall, Anne. “A Brief History of Glass Blowing.” Web. 7 January 2012 “Glass Blowing History.” Web. 7 January 2012



5 thoughts on “The Timeless Art of Glass Making

  1. Pingback: Cut Glass And Glass Blowing History And Development

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