A brief history of glass
Natural glass has existed since the beginning of time. In nature, volcanic eruptions, lightning, and the impact of meteorites caused certain rocks to melt, then solidify rapidly into a glass substance from which Stone Age man made cutting tools. Tools were often made of Obsidian, a natural glass of volcanic origin.
According to accounts passed down from the Ancient Roman historian Pliny, it was Phoenician merchants who discovered glass, purely by accident. As the story goes, some merchants were cooking their dinner on the beach one night, and they rested their cooking pots on lumps of soda from their ships. Due to the intense heat of the fire, the blocks melted, and the liquid mixed with the sand, thus forming an opaque liquid, which solidified, and became glass. I don’t know if this tale is true, but it’s a nice story, nonetheless.
Certainly it is true that Phoenician merchants and sailors were instrumental in spreading the art of glass-making over the entire Mediterranean region. Indeed, the Phoenicians are credited with having invented glass-blowing, a revolutionary invention, and boon to the glass industry. Glass was, at one point in history, a very valuable commodity, available only in small quantities, and only to extremely wealthy individuals. With the invention of glass-blowing, glass became a material accessible to the general public.
Before glass-blowing, the Egyptians were making small, brightly colored vessels and glass beads. These objects were very costly. The Romans, in the last century BC, did much to develop and spread glass-blowing technology. During the reign of Emperor Augustus, glass objects began to appear throughout Italy, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Glass was even found in China, along the Silk Route.
It was the Romans who began to use glass for architectural purposes.
Clear glass was discovered in Alexandria around 100 AD. Manganese oxide was used to make a crude form of clear glass. Cast glass windows began to appear in important buildings in Rome and Pompeii.
Finally, during the Middle Ages, Venice, Italy, assumed it’s famed role as the glass-making center of the Western World. The Venetians received their technical know-how from the Phoenicians, and their art was influenced by Islamic artisans. Venice remained very protective of its glass-making techniques and industry, and frowned on exporting any technicians to other countries.
Still, other countries made huge advances in the art of glass-making.
Lead crystal was invented in England in 1674. The superb crystal produced in Ireland is world-renowned. The French invented mirrors.
Germany made advances in optical glass. America invented an automatic bottle-blowing machine. The evolution of glass goes on and on, with new discoveries flowing out of Germany, England, America, France and Belgium.
We, at SHOPSICLE (www.shopsicle.com), love glass art, and are proud to represent many astounding glass artists. When you visit SHOPSICLE, just click on “Collectibles” in the left column, and scroll down to “Glass Art”.
One of my favorites is Jim Vollmer, whose works often resemble woven fabric in their intricacy of pattern and color. His colors actually shimmer like a fine tapestry. He utilizes texture and relief in all his work. Jim believes “God is in the details”.
Another superb glass artist whose work you can find at SHOPSICLE, is Randi Solin. Solin’s art is a fusion of the American Studio Art Glass Movement (more about that later), and classic Venetian glass-blowing. Her work is very painterly, vivid, and original.
Of course we cannot have a serious discussion about glass art without mentioning Dale Chihuly, who is widely recognized as the world’s premier glass artist. A friend loaned me a collection of videos of Chihuly at work in his studio, creating his wildly imaginative world of blown glass pieces. In one video, Chihuly and some of his staff (fellow artists) were standing in a little rowboat, tossing shimmering glass orbs into the river, permitting the current to carry his art into the river’s playful dance of light, air, and motion. Chihuly’s art is mischievous, elegant, and other-worldly. I love his sea forms series: undulating shell-like forms-within-forms, and his dramatic art glass chandeliers. One of the videos shows Chihuly and Company hanging 14 chandeliers at various sites, over canals and in other outdoor locations throughout Venice, Italy. It was so beautiful, and so appropriate, that these chandeliers were displayed in the “City of Light” (no, not Paris this time), as well as the premier city for glass-blowing.
The “Studio Glass Movement” began in 1962, when molten glass became available to artists working in private studios. This approach to glass-blowing blossomed into a worldwide movement, producing prolific artists such as Dale Chihuly, Dante Marioni, Fritz Driesbach, Marvin Lipofsky, and Lino Tagliapietra.
To learn more about glass-blowing, go into these websites:
And if you are fortunate enough to be located near any of the following museums devoted to glass art, don’t miss them:
- Glass Flowers – Harvard, Cambridge, MA
- The Museum of Glass – Tacoma, WA
- Corning Museum of Glass – Corning, NY
- The Glass Museum – Ebeltoft, Denmark
- The Finnish Glass Museum – Riihimaki, Finland
- The National Glass Centre – Sunderland, UK
- Joan Saloomey
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