The History of Glassblowing
We know that glass is made from several minerals: sand, soda ash, and limestone, melted together at extremely high temperatures. However, when was glass first used or discovered? The oldest pieces of glass are dated to the 16th century BCE in Mesopotamia, with further evidence of glass vessels in Egypt during the 15th century BCE. After hundreds of years of the glass arts being somewhat guarded by their masters in individual cultures, The development of glassblowing as a way to create glass objects was spread extensively by the Roman Empire in the 1st century BCE.
By the Renaissance, the glass industry had spread throughout Europe, with Spain and Italy being well-known for their artistry and high quality work. In the 1200s, the Venetian Glassmakers Guild was established. For some time, all Italian glassmakers were required to live off the Venetian coast on the island of Muran in order to maintain security and the purity of glassblowing knowledge; it was they who invented glass mirrors.
By the late 1800s, glass was everywhere, commonly used as daily home items such as butter dishes, drinking bottles and glasses, flower vases, and more. The invention of the
automatic bottle blowing machine in 1903 allowed rapid production of light bulbs and other items. But all along, glass was, for the most part, used mostly for practical objects; when used in an artistic way, it was primarily stained glass for religious buildings or other ornate architecture.
So when did modern glass art begin to take shape? In the early 1960s, the studio glass movement began, forever influencing the techniques and purposes for glass blowing.
Influential Studio Glass Artists
Modern glass art as a studio art began to gain popularity in the early 1960s. At the Toledo Museum of Art in 1962, a ceramics professor named Harvey Littleton, and Dominick Labino, a chemist and engineer, offered two workshops in which they experimented with melting glass in a small furnace and creating blown glass art. With the small furnace and the notion that glass production did not need to be reserved for industrial or practical applications, the studio movement was born.
Over the next year, Littleton taught a group of six apprentices, using a garage studio on his own property. Some of those students went on to be incredible artists whose work has not only had unique artistic impact, but has raised awareness of and appreciation for studio glass art all over the world. Littleton eventually moved the program to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he grew as an artist and teacher, continuously experimenting with technique, form, and artistic concept.
One of Littleton?s early students, Marvin Lipofsky, also helped establish modern glass art. With an ever evolving play on the concept of glass bubbles, Lipofsky used bubble shapes to express a vast range of natural and abstract objects and concepts. One of his greatest contributions to the modern glass art movement, however, is not just his award winning art, but his teaching career, which brought the studio art movement to California and inspired hundreds of new artists who influenced the form in new ways.
Ann Wolff, a German-born artist who is one of the founders of the international Studio Glass Movement, has been creating modern glass art, as well as other visual art forms, since the early 1960s. Known for her blown glass sculpture representations of the human body, infused with a sense of internal struggle, Wolff has been awarded the Glass Art Society?s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the prestigious PRO EUROPA Foundation?s European Culture Prize.
The Future Of Modern Glass Art
The example set by Littleton, Lipofsky, Wolff and others is one of experimentation. Without a sense of curiosity and a desire to create something new, modern glass art would have begun. Always, artists will look for new methods, technologies and equipment in order to improve or enhance their creations. And aside from the artistic value, the industrial uses for glass continue to evolve, in turn influencing creative techniques.