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Art Glass

Art Glass and glass art are two terms which are often used interchangeably with one another. However, art glass is just the addition of glass pieces to another art piece, whereas glass art is a piece of modern art made wholly or mainly of glass. Glass art is also called studio glass and is displayed in places where many people can view it. Art glass is privately commissioned and displayed in hotels, cruise liners and museums. Besides stained glass, many techniques are used in order to create glass art such as acid etching, gliding and enameling. Art glass is generally made on a small scale in studios or handmade by the artist. Prior to the 1960s art glass was made commercially. With the advent of technology, it became possible to create more elaborate pieces of art and many institutes specializing in glass art techniques began to prosper. Companies like Tiffany, Lalique, Daum and Leerdam became famous for their glass creations and now their work is sold the world over. The art glass movement went international after many courses in glass art were offered and many glass artists like Lipovsky and Boysen began to display their talent. They came up with one of a kind creations which would change the concept of glass art altogether. Many ancient techniques like glass blowing, fusing, welding and stained glass were employed in creating these pieces. Glass art need not be restricted to windows and panels. It can range from a variety of products like vases, tumblers, glasses, bottles and paper weights.

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Above - glass bottles by Roger Gandelman.

Manufacture of Art Glass

There are three types of art glass - Hot glass, Cold Glass, and Warm Glass. The glass gets its name from the technique used to make the art piece. Glass blowing is a technique used in the manufacture of hot glass but it is often confused with only blowing molten glass into a particular art piece. It could also mean using a blowtorch on the glass in order to achieve the desired result. Glass can also be melted and molded in its molten state for an art piece which has already been made, or a standalone piece. Objects made from such techniques can be glasses, paperweights, or goblets and vases. When the glass is heated over a furnace, it is known as warm glass. This is because the heat received by the glass in not from a direct source and it does not melt completely. Slumping is a method used in the formation of warm glass. It originated in the Roman era in which vessels where made from melting material and then polished and ground to give them a smoother finish. It is an easy method and can be done at home using an oven. However one must be very careful as it is a process which needs trained hands and experience in glass art. The glass must be first coated with an agent which does not react with the mold in which the artist intends to shape the glass. It is cut into the shape of the mold and the artist must account for the shrinkage during the heating process. It is then melted and poured into the mold. Slumping and fusing are both done at temperature between 1000- 1500 degrees Celsius. Fusing is done when two pieces of glass are melted just enough to join two pieces together. The manufacture of cold glass requires no heat and is generally an outcome of the manufacture of hot glass or warm glass. If one wants to give the glass a slightly transparent look, hydrofluoric acid is used and it becomes translucent. This is called acid etching. A similar method is used in sandblasting and gives the glass its desired effect, only this time instead of acid grit, sand is used. These methods have been used through the ages and have continued to show in contemporary art glass pieces.

Stained Glass

Stained glass is also known as colored glass. It has been an art for thousands of years and is generally seen in significant buildings such as churches, monasteries and other monuments in the windows and panels. In modern times it has become a hobby for many people and can be done with simple materials and does not need the aid of machines. Stained glass is made by adding salts like potassium or lead to the molten glass which colors or stains it. Different colors of glass are merged together to form a single piece. Silica, on the other hand, requires high temperatures which may not be achievable at home. After adding the salt and melting the glass, lime is added to ensure it does fall apart or crack. The metals added are iron, which gives the glass a deep blue hue, and gold, which when added gives the glass a red color. Cylinder glass is a popular form of stained glass art. It is a method in which the molten glass is taken and formed into a cylindrical shape and has air blown into it. As it cools, it is further molded into the desired shape. Hand blown and crown glass were also used in the stained glass windows of ancient monasteries. Crown glass is hand blown glass and is manufactured similarly in the manner of stained glass, only this time, the bubble is compressed using a potter’s wheel or a rapidly revolving table. Rolled glass was a technique used in ancient times in which the molten glass was laid onto a surface and rolled like a pie crust with a metal pipe. It is also known as cathedral glass, since it was used mainly in cathedral panels. There are different colors the glass can be manufactured in, depending on the mineral with which the glass is covered. Manganese Dioxide and soda lime will give a transparent colored glass and in New England Selenium was used. Chromium is used for the manufacture of dark green glass. Many bottles are produced using this method, which might explain the dark green color of many beer bottles.

Blown Glass

Glass blowing was a technique used in the early 2nd century. It is mainly the art of being able to shape glass from its molten state to create a piece of art. There are two types of glassblowing- Lampworking and off hand. Lampworking is the process of manipulating and melting glass with a blowtorch whereas off hand blown glass is done with the help of a hollow tube. Both methods require certain precautions to be taken since the glass is being handled at relatively high temperatures. There is no saying which method is easier, since both require precision and experience on the part of the glass handler. The first method, which is the offhand method, requires one to first collect the glass in one place, after which one end of the hollow tube is sealed off, forming an air bubble. Then the artist carefully shapes the glass around the air bubble and adds more glass. Then the tube is completely sealed off and the glass is cut. Lampworking or blowtorching the glass is used for the manufacture of smaller objects. First, the blowtorch is heated and the glass is brought slowly to the flame till it becomes slightly molten. A mandrel is used to handle the molten glass. After heating the glass, the molten glass and mandrel are fused together till the glass achieves its desired shape. Glass blowing can be done on an individual scale as well but it can be a daunting task, because it requires the presence of many materials which may be sold only commercially.

Fused Glass

Fused glass is glass which has been heated with a kiln from 500 degrees Celsius to 800 degrees Celsius. The difference in temperature determines the type of glass produced and the effect on it. Slumping is when glass is heated between 500 and 700 degrees, tack fusing is when glass is heated between 700 and 740 degrees and a full fuse is when the glass is heated at the highest possible temperatures. The history of glass fusing is highly disputed. Some believe it was the Egyptians who invented the technique but history points to the Romans as more proficient glass blowers and fusers, who used to make ornate utensils and objects. In the Renaissance period, glass fusing was not given much attention, but as the world of art became more contemporary, more people began to turn to glass fusing as a technique of creating art pieces. Many artists employ stacking techniques, which means they take different colors of glass and fuse them together by putting them in a pile in order to create their masterpieces. The stack is placed through ramps and soaks which are cycles of heating and cooling till the glass amalgamates into one solid piece. The cooling period takes about half a day in three main phases. The first phase is the annealing process where the glass begins to cool. The second part is where the fused glass is put into the kiln and kept there for it to reach to room temperature. The last stage is the placement of a pyrometer into the kiln so that one can effectively judge when it is safe to take the glass out of the kiln, which is only at room temperature.

Glass Sculpture

Glass sculpture is a part of modern glass art in which elaborate statues and figures are made partially or fully of glass. Many artists have used ancient techniques in order to create these pieces and glass museums display unique pieces of glass sculpture. It became a huge part of the Art Nouveau Movement in the 19th century. Cameo glass is a more refined form of glass sculpture and glass art, which uses the fusing technique and displays different colored glass which have been molded together. Most times Cameo glass has a darker background and lighter colored motifs in the form of people or animals. Sometimes it also uses precious stones like gems or onyx. Lustering is a process where the glass is given a more refined, smoother look. It is similar to stained glass. Many processes used in the manufacturing of cold glasswork were also used in producing Waterford crystal, a popular glass and crystal manufacturing group in Ireland. Sometimes erosive substances were used in fusing both the glass pieces together, generally after blowing the glass. Molding is a relatively new technique used in glass sculpting and involves melting the glass into a mold which already has the etched piece on it. The term Depression glass was coined when cheaper, more commercially available materials were used in the manufacturing process. This led to inferior quality glass at affordable rates. Although the materials used in the manufacture of glass sculpting are highly dangerous, they are still widely used.

The Art Glass Movement

In the United States, the Modern Glass Art Movement was started. It spread across continents, where one of kind projects were taken up and displayed at museums in Europe, Australia and Asia. People like Bauhaus and Frank Lloyd were revered as artists and not as glass sculptors. During this movement, artists began to search for newer avenues in which their work would be appreciated. Harvey Littleton is known as the ‘Father of the Glass Art Movement’ and developed a unique glass blowing method which is still widely used today. Scandinavia was famous for its vase work and other ceramic production. It was Littleton and Voulkos who started holding workshops for aspiring painters and artists who did not have any experience. This in turn triggered a worldwide movement. In 1962, Dominick Labino initiated the modern glass blowing movement in which newer techniques other than the offhand and lampworking were introduced. It gave rise to a number of contemporary artists and schools such as the Toledo School and Museum of Art. Cast glass is commercially produced glass with the help of a kiln or furnace. It can be done with colored glass or plain glass, depending on the whim of the artist. The Corning Museum of Glass is a place frequented by many glass art fanatics. It is home to the largest collection of glass art pieces in the world.

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Above - 'Water Walk' by Paul Housberg.

Decorating Art Glass

With the advent of technology and machinery it is possible to decorate the glass in a number of ways to make it look appealing. Techniques likes frosting, enameling, etching, reverse printing, screen printing and platinum branding are used in a number of glass manufacturing companies. Frosting is the result of many processes put together. It entails making small marks on the glass to give it the appearance of frost rather than shine. There are two main types of frosting – semi permanent and permanent. It can be done using scissors, paper a razor blade an adhesive and a frosting agent. Sodium Sulphate, emery and water, and Epsom salt are materials used to give the glass a very fine frosted finish. Glass etching is done after glass blowing or casting and is basically the use of abrasive materials on the glass, mostly to create art on glass. Acid etching uses hydrofluoric acid which is mixed with quartz calcium and sulfuric acid. Acid etching cream is far less abrasive and uses hydrogen fluoride. This is what gives the glass a translucent look. A few modern techniques of glass decoration include abrasive sand blasting and molding.

Conclusion

Glass art need not be confined to glass blowing and glass sculpture displayed in hotels. It can comprise of a number of objects like vases, paperweights and artifacts as well. Many ancient techniques employed by the Egyptians and Romans are still widely used today and displayed in many glass factories. Lead glass is in fact an alloy of glass where lead replaces the potash generally used in the manufacture. It makes the glass easier to sculpt. Due to the high atomic number of lead it gives the glass a crystalline look, Lead has an advantage over alkaline materials used in the manufacture of glass. It does not crack because of heat contractions and is sturdier. Stained glass and blown glass can be manufactured on an individual level so long as the correct precautions are taken. Decorating techniques can range from frosting to enameling where a protective layer is put on the glass and the glass is molded into different shapes. Glassmaking is an art. It requires dexterous hands and a patient mind. The artist should envision the finished product and use the correct combination of processes to achieve it.

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