[PA-NJ Glassblowers] Two Inspirational Glass Web Pages

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Sat Nov 22 12:45:20 EST 2008


  Learn the secrets of glass art

    American glassblowers breathe new life into Old World art

by *Richard Nilsen* - Nov. 14, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

There's no mystery to the popularity of glass art.

"Glass transmits light, it reflects light, it refracts light," Seattle 
artist Benjamin Moore says. "Glass is a magical medium."

For Scottsdale glass artist Newt Grover, "It is the colors and the 
transparency. They are effects you cannot get in any other medium."

Even for the world-famous Dale Chihuly, the answer is simple: "Glass is 
popular because light goes through it. Only four things can do that: 
gemstones like diamonds; ice; water; and glass - and glass does it best."

*To work in glass is to work in light.*

All three artists are part of the American Studio Glass Movement, a 
community of those working in the medium that has grown from only a few 
practitioners in the 1960s to a point where, currently, the Glass Art 
Society in Seattle has 3,800 members in 58 countries.

Glass has spread.

"It really began in Toledo, Ohio, in 1962, when Harvey Littleton 
arranged a glassblowing exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art," Moore 

Littleton later established a glass program at the University of Wisconsin.

"It has flourished since then," Moore says. "There are at least 20 or 30 
university programs now."

Littleton's students, including Chihuly and Marvin Lipofsky, have spread 
the art and techniques. Chihuly's 25,000-square-foot studio in Seattle, 
called the Boathouse, is now the world's largest, and scores of other 
artists, often trained by Chihuly or his Pilchuck Glass School, have 
moved to the area, making Seattle the largest concentration of glass 
artists in the world.

"Harvey is the one who really went out and started to get people to 
think about working in glass," Chihuly says. "His influence is the 
biggest one, getting everyone together."

Now it's Chihuly who is most influential.

"He's done more for art glass than anyone," Grover says. "Chihuly and 
art glass are not separable."

Chihuly is bringing an installation of his art to the Desert Botanical 
Garden this week for a six-month stay.

      Long history

But that doesn't mean the subject ends with Chihuly. Glass has a long 
history, beginning in the ancient Middle East. No one knows exactly when 
and where glass was invented, but as far as art goes, Egyptians worked 
in a kind of glass, a vitrified enamel on small sculptural forms. 
Glassblowing on an industrial scale began with the Romans.

"Glass has been used as a sculptural medium for over 2,000 years," says 
Suzanne Franz, a freelance glass curator and former curator at the 
Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y. "They blew them in the shapes 
of heads, figures, fruit. In a way, there hasn't been anything invented 
since the Romans."

But most of the Roman work was functional: glasses, bottles, jars. To 
find the point where the purely aesthetic properties of glass took hold, 
you have to go to northern France in the 12th century and the 
development of Gothic architecture. There, colored-glass windows became 
not merely functional, but spiritual.

The Abbot Suger, who oversaw the construction of the first Gothic 
cathedral, Basilica St. Denis in Paris,* **saw light as a metaphor of 
the divine* and sought a way to incorporate light into his architecture. 
By opening up his walls, it meant he could fill them in with images in 
colored glass.

No one who has spent time with the great rose windows in Chartres or 
Paris can fail to be moved by the luminous quality of their designs.

For Suger, awash in the Neoplatonism of his time, had *three Latin words 
to describe light. "Lux" was the everyday sunlight that everyone shared; 
"lumen" was the sanctified colored light that came through the 
stained-glass windows and transformed the interior of his church; and 
"illumination" was the spiritual effect that had on the individual who 
took in this light through his senses.*

But you don't have to believe in the divine to see how the light coming 
through glass can have an emotional effect on the viewer. If all art is 
essentially metaphorical, the essential metaphor of glass is radiance, 
the transfiguration of the world.

"The alchemy of glass is what's so exciting," says Pamela Koss, 
executive director of the Glass Art Society.

      Murano industry

Glass took a great leap forward in the 13th century, when an industry 
was set up on the Venetian island of Murano. That industry is still in 
business, and until this century it was the most influential element in 
glass art. It developed many of the prime techniques still used: Much of 
the glassmaking industry uses Italian terms, much as musicians do. The 
glass-art vocabulary includes lattimo, millefiori, smalto, latticino, 
avventurina and incalmo.

Each factory on the island developed its secrets and specialties.

"Murano is a magical place," Moore says. "It has been there since the 
13th century, isolated because of the danger of fire, but also to keep 
its secrets. It's in decline now. When I was there in the late '70s, 
there were 150 factories. Now there's maybe 50. The number of people 
working has gone from the thousands to the hundreds.

"You walk down the streets of Murano now and see glass for sale made in 
China or India, where it's cheaper. It's a dying culture."

Besides, says Franz, "It's hard to get young people interested in 
working in a factory."

But in the 19th century, Venetian glass was still state-of-the-art. 
There was a large public for Venetian craftsmanship, as well as a number 
of outsiders who wanted to learn glass and take it in other directions. 
You probably have heard their names: Rend Lalique, Louis Comfort 
Tiffany, Emile Galle, the Daum brothers. They worked glass, discovering 
many new techniques and surface treatments. The Art Nouveau and Art Deco 
traditions they worked in were enormously popular, and their businesses 

"That period has had an extraordinary influence on artists of the Studio 
Glass Movement," says Susan Warner of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, 
Wash. "You think of Tiffany and the extraordinary use of surface, and 
Carlos Scarpa, and other fantastic designers, taking material to make 
real breakthrough statements."

Scarpa was an architect, but he created many glass designs for the 
Venini Glass Works in Venice.

After World War II, there was a revival of interest in craft arts in the 
U.S. The Black Mountain School in North Carolina, among other places, 
elevated ceramics and other crafts to a fine art, and by the 1960s, 
craft was enjoying a true renaissance. Glass became part of that when 
Littleton shifted his allegiance from pottery to glass.

      Shared experience

Part of the ethos of the '60s was that art should be a shared, not 
private, experience. The culture of secrecy kept by the Venetians made 
no sense to the Boomers now swelling the ranks of the American Studio 
Glass Movement.

"Murano was closed and conservative," Moore says. "You didn't just walk 
into another factory unless you had been personally invited by the 
master of that company. But the American sensibility was one of sharing. 
Back in the '60s and '70s, everyone shared and worked together."

A few Italian masters recognized this and began working with the 
Americans. One of them was Lino Tagliatpietra, among the most respected 
of the Venetians.

"One of the reasons Lino came over was that he saw what was going on 
here as something special," Moore said. "He thinks of his culture as 
dying, and here in America, it's no holds barred, share ideas and work 

It's one of the special qualities of glass workers.

"We don't hold our secrets," Chihuly says. "We all work in teams of five 
to 10 people, and not even a thought of hiding something. Venetians came 
over and worked with us."

There are other glass movements around the world, in the Czech Republic, 
Japan and elsewhere, but all of them owe something to the Americans.

"As glass cultures, old commercial cultures are dying everywhere, from 
Bavaria to Austria to Venice, falling to industrialization and 
mechanization, a lot of old craftsmen are going by the wayside," Moore 

"It is the beauty of the American studio movement that it can amalgamate 
the various glass cultures, in our own vegetable-soup way of working 
with the material, and make a new statement in the medium."


  Scottsdale artist describes glass craft

by *Richard Nilsen* - Nov. 14, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

"It's like getting into your car when it's parked outside in the middle 
of the summer," says Scottsdale glass artist Newt Grover. "When you work 
in a studio in front of a furnace, you get this blast of hot air. You 
definitely feel the heat."

Grover, who runs Newt Glass (newtglass.com <http://www.newtglass.com>), 
has been a glassblower for 11 years, making both practical work and art 

"The furnace runs roughly at 2,000 degrees (Fahrenheit) and it runs 
24/7," he says. "It takes two days to come up to temperature and longer 
than that to cool down."

Typically, the furnace runs continuously for two years at a time, cooled 
only for repairs and maintenance. His natural-gas bill runs up to $2,500 
a month.

The furnace takes pride of place in the center of his 1,000-square-foot 
concrete-and-steel studio. The furnace is about 4 feet around and 6 feet 
high, with a small door that opens to the crucible of molten glass.

"The glass looks orange when hot," he says. "Visitors sometimes ask, 'Do 
you make anything that's not orange?' But no, that's just the heat."

It's one of a series of questions that seem to come up every time.

"Like 'Do you burn yourself?' No, not a lot. If you're used to working 
around anything, you get used to it so you don't hurt yourself."

Or, "How hot is that blowpipe?"

"The pipe is four-and-a-half-feet long. The end where you gather can be 
1,200 to 1,500 degrees, but where you hold it, it's room temperature."

Another FAQ: "How hard do you have to blow?"

"Depends on how hot the glass is. If it's cold, it's not going to move 
at all."

The hotter the glass is, the more liquid.

"It doesn't have a melting point, like water," he says. "It's a constant 
variation from liquid to solid, with all stages of viscosity in between."

Grover works his studio with paid apprentices. They get to use the 
furnace when Grover isn't working on something.

"I usually have two or three assistants when I'm blowing glass," he 
says. "If it's a bigger piece, I may need four or five."

One person will hold the blowpipe and inflate the hot glass, while 
others will use various wooden paddles and metal snips to cut, shape and 
fashion the glass.

"Glass is like ceramics, but instead of being worked vertically on a 
potter's wheel, it has to be kept turning horizontally as you work it, 
so the soft glass doesn't sag.

"A lot of the tools are green wood, and you get a kind of burned wood 
smell, and you use a lot of newspaper, upwards of 20 sheets, folded into 
a pad and soaking wet, to be able to shape the glass. It's the closest 
thing you get to actually holding the hot glass. But it leaves a smell.

"Hot shops have a distinctive odor," Grover says. It's a mixture of 
burning wood, steaming newspaper and the beeswax used to lubricate the 

"And there's generally a lot of sweat in that mix."

Grover began as a jewelrymaker but moved into neon in the 1980s. Most of 
his work was commercial signage, and he soon got bored with it. For the 
past decade, it has been all glass.

*"For me, it's the colors and the transparency," he says. "There are 
effects you cannot get in any other medium. It's addictive, more 
addictive that heroin or crack."*

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