Art Glass

MIND-BLOWINGLY BEAUTIFUL

BY JACQUELIN CARNEGIE

A mixture of the most common materials— sand, calcium and ash—is transformed by fire into glass. Artists turn it into masterpieces. Making glass dates back to about 2500BC in Mesopotamia. Phoenicians were accomplished glass makers as were the Egyptians, known for stunning turquoise and blue pieces created with copper and cobalt oxides. But it was the Syrians who discovered glassblowing in 50BC.

Until then, glass objects were luxury items, considered more valuable than precious gems. Apart from some jewelry—beads and amulets—most glass was used for utilitarian purposes: holding wine, perfume and oils. Glass blowing made it possible for large quantities of diverse glassware to be produced inexpensively, creating two categories of glass: luxury and functional.

Over the centuries, various areas became renowned as glass centers: Venice, Bohemia, France, Sweden. But while a few individual artists such as René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany became internationally recognized for innovations in the field, glass making remained industry based, often shrouded in secrecy. It wasn’t until the 1960s in the United States that the idea took hold that individual artists could create art glass objects in their own studios. Fueled by desire and technical advances, in 1962 artist Harvey K. Littleton and glass scientist Dominick Labino led groundbreaking workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art, introducing artists to the use of glass as a material for contemporary art.

Soon, glassmaking programs sprang up at universities and art schools across the country, and what became known as the Studio Glass Movement developed into an international phenomenon. Dale Chihuly is one of the best known American artists to emerge from the movement. But British artist Peter Layton also happened to be in the States at the time, teaching ceramics at the University of Iowa; he became so taken by the properties of glass that he changed disciplines.

“Glass has a life and will of its own that you need to work with rather than control,” explains Layton. “I love the fluidity of the medium and the spontaneity it demands.” Back in England, the glass-smitten Layton established The Contemporary Glass Society to support and encourage glassmakers and opened the London Glassblowing Workshop to create and teach contemporary glass art.

Now, Peter Layton and one of his initial students, Adam Aaronson, are considered mainstays of London’s art glass scene. Both take nature as an inspiration and “landscape” and “painterly influences” are two major areas of common exploration. Although the execution is quite different, their work has the feeling of Impressionist paintings rendered in solid form. “As an artist, I am inspired by the ceaseless variability of light on the landscape, in the sky and on water,” Aaronson says. “Glass is the ideal medium to express this idea of continual change since its properties are inherently fluctuating, not only in its molten state but also in the way the play of light creates endless nuances in the finished piece.”

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