Blown art glass is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America and it is about time. Glassblowing has been around since 27 BC in Syria, though the first evidence of manmade glass products occurs in Mesopotamia in the late 3rd century BC. But the advancement of actual “blowing” glass using a tube transformed the materials usefulness. The new technique quickly spread throughout the Roman world.
Harvey Littleton, a ceramics professor, and Dominick Labino, a chemist and engineer, are credited with starting the most recent “studio glass movement” in 1962. The two held workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art. This is where the current method of melting glass in a furnace for use in blown glass art was originated. Thus, Littleton and Labino are credited with making molten glass available to artists in private studios.
The actual process of preparing the glass for blowing is very involved though. The glass is melted in furnaces using the sand, limestone, soda, potash and other compounds. The actual transformation of raw materials into glass takes place well above 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
After the glass has melted, the artist uses a blowpipe to shape the glass. The blowpipe is about five feet long and is used for blowing a parison of molten glass. Molds are used to impress decorative patterns.
There are two types of modern glassblowing but offhand glassblowing is the type most people picture in their mind when they think about this kind of art. The artist gathers a glob of fused glass at the end of a hollow tube called a blowpipe or blowing iron. The molten glass is then fashioned into its final form by various techniques of blowing and shaping with hands, tolls and molds. The second kind of glassblowing is lampworking. Lampworking is the softening of a glass tube by heating it in the flame of a torch. Next, the softened glass is manipulated into its final form by blowing and shaping with hands and tools. Any number of things can be created using either technique; sculpted animals, ashtrays, vases, aquarium pieces, beads, paper weights, perfume bottles the list goes on and on. Moreover, practically every major part of the world at one time or another in its history has been known, in some part, for its glass art. However, Mexican glass art is the most popular.
Mexico is the land of the master craftsman. Known throughout history as being expert potters, weavers and wood carvers, Mexican artists have really made their mark as glassblowers. Beginning in 1542 in Puebla, these artists produced glass items in a variety of shapes with little more than a long pipe and a glob of melted glass. Experienced Mexican glass blowers will even add effects as small bubbles, blobs of color or pebbles to their finished to pieces to make them stand out.
Authentic Mexican glass is easily identified by a ponti, or a place at the bottom of the finished product that indicates it was mouth blown. Another feature of Mexican glass is its individual nature. No two pieces are ever exactly alike in size, shape or design, which simply adds to the unique nature of each piece.
But the most unique detail about this glassblowing is how little it”s changed since its inception. For the most part, glassblowers are still producing beautiful works of art the same way they did back in 27 BC melted glass and a metal tube. This is one instance where my grandpa was wrong. In the case of glassblowing, “They are still making them like they used to.”