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Learn the Ancient Art of Glassblowing and the Contemporary Artists That Blow Us Away Today

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How does a glass bowl get formed or an exquisite sculpture get made? This is done through the art of glassblowing. The practice involves shaping the material using heat and, as the term implies, blowing. It’s a relatively simple act that has the power to create awe-inspiring art that can be functional, decorative, or both.

Stock Photos from maggee /Shutterstock

The techniques used in glassblowing have remained nearly the same since it was first discovered. It involves molten glass (glass with the consistency of molasses) that is gathered at the end of a hollow pipe. Air is then blown through that pipe and the pliable glass blooms into a bubble form. From there, it’s shaped by swinging, rolling, or blowing. Afterward, additional elements that would make the glass functional (think handles or stems) are attached using welding.

History of Glassblowing

ANCIENT ERAS

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Humans working with glass can be traced back to the prehistoric times of 4000 BCE. Men had not discovered glass blowing at that time, but they did take advantage of the natural glass called obsidian that was the result of volcanic eruptions. The hardened material was used in making tools, arrowheads, and amulets. At this time, humans also figured out the recipe for glass: sand, plant ash, and lime. The plant ash helped the sand to melt and the lime was a stabilizer that protected the material from moisture.

By 1500 BCE, people in Mesopotamia and Egypt shaped their own vessels by forming hot glass around solid cores and dung. After the glass cooled, the cores were removed to reveal a hollow form. In addition to making bowls, glass tiles were also created at this time.

ROMAN EMPIRE

Roman blown glass receptacles for perfume
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Roman blown glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

We have the Syrian people to thank for the invention of the blowpipe. Around 300 BCE, they created the tool for which modern glassblowing is built upon. It caught on with the rest of the Roman Empire and they began experimenting with the practice by inventing new shapes and forms. The artisans also improved upon the basic glass formula to create designs within the material and decorate it using metal inlays.

MIDDLE AGES

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