Hand blown glass art has a rich and fascinating history. While glass was being made for many thousands of years, possibly as early as 2500 BC, the art of glass blowing wasn't invented until around 50 BC. Prior to that time, glass pieces were shaped by wrapping heated glass around a clay core, which was later removed, creating a vessel. During this period, making things from glass was not an artistic so much as a practical endeavor. Glass was not commonly owned and used in those early days, with only the very rich able to afford it.
Around 50 BC, it was discovered that glass could be formed by blowing, opening up a whole world of possibility for creating glass pieces. Blowing glass was a much more efficient way of making vessels, and glass became more common during the days of the Roman Empire. It was during this time that glassmakers began to experiment and become much more creative and intricate with their glass designs, elevating this utilitarian task to a true art form. In addition to creating useful objects, blown glass artists began creating decorative pieces, as well.
Glass Goes Underground
Production of glass pieces slowed during the dark ages, but by the Middle Ages, glassmaking began to resurface, primarily in the form of stained-glass windows. Blown glass art was less common, but Italian artists continued the tradition. Glass artisans in Venice eventually came together to form The Venetian Glassmakers' Guild. Unfortunately, the Venetian glassmakers were exiled to the island of Murano in 1291, partly to keep their techniques for glass blowing secret, and partly to remove the danger of fires in Venice caused by glassblowers' furnaces.
The blown glass art industry continued to thrive, but the art was still practiced in strict secrecy. That changed in the 17th century, when a book entitled L'Arte Vetraria (The Art of Glass) was written by Italian priest Antonio Neri. Neri's book became a bible for glassmakers, revealing recipes for making glass, the equipment used and the glass-blowing techniques. Now any glass blowing artist could adopt the techniques that had been perfected by Italian artisans.
Glassblowing studios spread throughout Europe, and the art was brought to America by the early settlers of Jamestown. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, glass production became somewhat industrialized, and glass was used for artistic, practical and scientific purposes.
By the early 20th century, glass artists once again began to be recognized for their contribution to this fine art. Glass artists such as Emile Galle, Eugene Rouseau and Maurice Marinot became quite well known for their blown glass art. During the 1960s, the studio glass movement saw great experimentation in glass design and glass blowing techniques. Even today, glass blowers around the world are continuing to experiment, creating new and exciting techniques and designs in hand blown glass.
Glass blowing instructions for safety need to be the first thing on the mind of every glass blower, as serious injuries can result from mishaps with molten materials.
Blown glass ornaments began as a family craft tradition in Germany. Today, machine-made ornaments are common, but nothing matches the craftsmanship and charm of blown glass.