Arts & Culture

The Unusual Side of Glass Working

Glassblowing is a form of art that many are familiar with.  Huge furnaces, long blowpipes, and blobs of molten glass are all a part of the process.  Usually, hollow ornaments, bowls, and larger glass sculptures are a result of glassblowing.  But rather than standing in front of a 2,000-4,000 degree Fahrenheit crucible, flameworking, sometimes referred to as lampworking, takes place in front of a considerably smaller, gas fueled, and adjustable torch.  Flameworking can be used to create figurines, dinnerware, beads, and more.  Because of the smaller tools and heat source, flameworking is great for adding small details to anything made of glass.  While flameworking isn’t a very common form of art, it is the more obscure, underappreciated cousin of glassblowing. 

Glassworking dates back to the Egyptians in the 1500s BC, used to create tiles, beads, and figurines.  Other cultures and people groups continued to experiment with and learn about glassworking.  However, around the fourteenth century, Italy became the number one place to go for anything made of glass; they were the first country to use the flameworking technique to mold their glass.  They used oil lamps to melt their medium, hence the alternative name, lampworking.  Lampworking’s popularity quickly skyrocketed in the hands of the Italians.  Because of their lucrative success, the artists decided to keep their trade a secret.  They moved all the lampworking to Murano, a small island, refusing to let anyone else learn how to create such beautiful pieces of glass art.  Others in Europe eventually attained the secret, but Italy is still respected as the origin of flameworking. 

Flameworking is a rather delicate process.  Oftentimes, the object being formed has thin parts that can easily break and small, intricate details that must be carefully added.  Essentially, the artist sits behind the flame, sticks of colored glass rods on one side and tools on the other.  The artist will use the flame to heat up the sticks of glass and use tools to stretch, flatten, or mold the glass into the desired shapes. 

After the medium has softened, it turns into something a little like burning hot playdough; it can be fused to other pieces and worked into whatever shapes are needed.  While the fire used in flameworking is minuscule compared to the furnaces used during glassblowing, there are still risks involved and the lampworkers have to be careful.  At 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the same level of heat as lava, one mistake can lead to a nasty burn.  Goggles or glasses that block infrared light are usually worn by artists, helping them see the parts of glass in the flames and also keeping shards of glass from flying into their eyes.  

Lampworking, while it can be used to create larger glass sculptures like glassblowing, usually is used to make smaller items.  Lampworking is much more detail-oriented than glassblowing and allows for focus to be laid on the minutiae.  Perhaps the most well-known instance of flameworking is in the Walt Disney parks.  The Arribas Brothers create all of the different glass items Disney sells in their Crystal Arts stores.  In Disney World, Florida on Main Street and in Epcot, Mexico, a worker will oftentimes sit behind plexiglass while he works so that visitors can watch the process.  The Corning Museum of Glass is also highly esteemed for their pieces of art, much of it created through flameworking, on display.  They also offer classes for those interested in learning the artform themselves. 

There are many artforms inside the realm of glasswork: glassblowing, etching, slumping, fusing, and more.  While they all have pros and cons and result in beautiful pieces of glass art, flameworking is my personal favorite.  It’s just the artist, some glass, and a torch.  While all forms of art are rewarding, and the sense of pride in completing a project stretches across them all, there’s something special about using flameworking to create art.  It requires so much focus and careful attention that the whole world can be tuned out.  It’s interesting, too, because the glass used is made primarily of sand found on secluded beaches.  So while using brightly colored sticks of glass might feel artificial, flameworking takes two opposite elements God has created in nature, fire and something associated with the sea, and joins them together in harmony to create beauty.  

 

Works cited: 

“A Brief History of Glassblowing and Lampworking.” Working the Flame,11 May, 2020, workingtheflame.com/history-of-glassblowing/.

“Guide to Glass Lampworking and Flameworking.” The Crucible,  www.thecrucible.org/guides/lampworking-flameworking/#3rd

“Interesting and Fun Facts About Glass Blowing 2021.” Working the Flame, 30 April, 2020, workingtheflame.com/glass-blowing-facts/

Figueroa, Jessica. “PHOTOS: Arribas Bros. Crystal Cinderella Castle Price Raised $12,000 As Stock Dwindles.” Walt Disney World News Today, 10 December, 2020, wdwnt.com/2020/12/photos-arribas-bros-crystal-cinderella-castle-price-raised-12000-as-stock-dwindles/

“Types of Glass Art.” Bernard Katz Glass, bernardkatz.com/types-of-glass-art/

 

Images: 

“Lampworking (Glass Torch Art).” Camp Agusta, www.campaugusta.org/portfolio/lampworking/.

“Blown Glass Octopus Glass Figurine Octopus Glass Ocean Octopus Kraken Glass Octopus Figurine.” Glass Symphony, glass-symphony.com/products/copy-of-art-glass-spider-figurine-blown-glass-spider-spider-halloween-hand-blown-glasses-glass-sculpture-for-sale-spider-charms-1.

“History of Venetian Glass Beads.” Glass of Venice, www.glassofvenice.com/venetian_beads_history.php

“Guide to Glass Lampworking and Flmeworking.” The Crucible, www.thecrucible.org/guides/lampworking-flameworking/

“How to Make a Glass Flower–Lampworking.” YouTube, uploaded by Plymouth College of Art, 3 December 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RW7Jmws2di0

Figueroa, Jessica. “PHOTOS: Arribas Bros. Crystal Cinderella Castle Price Raised $12,000 As Stock Dwindles.” Walt Disney World News Today, 10 December, 2020, wdwnt.com/2020/12/photos-arribas-bros-crystal-cinderella-castle-price-raised-12000-as-stock-dwindles/

6 Comments

  1. Wow! Good job! I never knew that there were so many things you could do with glass!

  2. Those are beautiful! good job!

  3. That is both interesting and beautiful! Great article!

  4. Emma, this was an amazing article!!!! The pictures are so beautiful! Great point in the conclusion, too!

  5. Wooow that’s so cool! Great article Emma! Very interesting to read 👌🏻