Glass artistry

Glass blowing

Glass has been used in art for centuries, and is more popular today than ever. Glass has traditionally been used extensively in jewellery, fine glassware, and elaborate, stained glass window designs.

Origins

Glass can form naturally, known as obsidian (or volcanic glass). It was used for making weapons, such as spear heads, as well as making jewellery and other decorative items. Humans first developed glass-making techniques in Egypt and Assyria. Glass blowing was first used in the 1st century BC. Archaeologists have discovered man-made glass that dates back as far as 4000 BC. The technique involved a person, known as a glassmith or gaffer, expanding a molten glob of glass by introducing air into it. The glass would then harden as it lost heat.

Glass making first came to Britain at the time of the Roman Empire (43 to 410 AD). Glassblowing continued to be popular until well into the Renaissance period. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Gothic churches and cathedrals across Europe were built with stunning works of art in the form of stained glass windows, which can still be seen today.

Modern glass art

Venetian glass, also known as Murano glass has been manufactured in Venice since 1291. Murano is the birthplace of modern glass artistry, still hugely popular even today. Murano glass smiths make everything, from vases and figurines to mirrors and jewellery.  

Other famous glass artists of today include British artist Cathryn Shilling, who use experimental woven techniques which produce glass work that resembles fabric. One of Japan’s best known glass artists is Ikuta Niyoko, famous for her geometric layered sculptures. Some of Nikoyo’s pieces are on display at the V&A museum in London.

Polish artist Marta Klonowaska uses glass shards to create animals, particularly dogs. Klonowaska creates her art by carefully covering a metal frame with coloured glass. Her art can be seen in exhibitions across Europe.

William Morris, a glassblower from California, revolutionised glass artistry. Morris’ work is different because he transforms glass into bone, wood and fibre. Morris explains this in-depth in a quote from his website: “My work is about the symbolic meaning which is attributed to objects and/or artifacts from various cultures. Ordinary objects, such as bone, take on great cultural and spiritual significance, reflecting the values and beliefs of tribal man. Although my work is shaped by the influences of contemporary life and technology, it contemplates fragments from the past; reinventing the narrative of the hunt, stories and rituals which continue to live on in the artifacts which remain.”

William Morris takes inspiration from ancient civilizations, creating pieces intended to add to the “architectural record of humankind”. Although Morris officially retired since 2007, his works can be seen at the American Glass Museum in New Jersey, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and several other well-known museums around the world.

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