Friday, February 22, 2013

Art in Glass

Whenever I have the opportunity to watch a skilled artist or craftsman at work, I often find myself thinking, "This person makes his or her production of the finished work look effortless." Realistically, I know that the road to excellence is paved with errors and imperfections--mistakes that became "learning experiences" for those seeking to master their craft.

An example of one such craft is glassblowing. A visit to the Sonoran Glass School in Tucson provided an opportunity to observe the steps in the process of producing a glass product. On this occasion, I had the opportunity to observe a retired physician go through many of the steps in creating a simple vase. (I had to watch the process from a short distance without any description of the process, so I will try to match my photos with the steps outlined at and

The glass blowing process involves the use of three furnaces, all of which serve different purposes. The first furnace (out of range to the right in the photo below) holds a container of molten glass. The glass in this furnace should be about 2,500° Fahrenheit.

When I arrived, the process had already begun. The artist had preheated the blowpipe and "gathered" the molten glass (by dipping the blowpipe in the furnace).

Once the glass is stable on the blowpipe, it is rolled on a steel table, called a marver.

This step begins the shaping process. The aim is to produce a symmetrical cylinder. To achieve this, the glass must continue to be rotated to prevent the glass from dripping off.

The second furnace (left) used in the glass blowing process is used for reheating a piece and is referred to as the “glory hole.” Frequent trips are made to this furnace throughout the process to keep the glass malleable.

A second person will then blow into the pipe and then cover the hole with his thumb. The heat will cause the trapped air to expand inside the pipe, which in turn will create a bubble. This first gather and bubble is called the parison.

A block is a ladle-like tool made out of fruit wood that is soaked with water. They are used to cool and shape a piece.

I am not sure how the colors are achieved.

The process of heating and shaping is repeated.

A wet piece of leather is used to shape the piece.

A piece can be lengthened by rotating it while maintaining a constant angle.

Once your piece is shaped the artist cuts in or creates score lines in the piece’s neck with large tongs known as jacks or tools that resemble giant tweezers. They are used near the end to finalize forming the creation.

By swinging the piece in a arc in the fashion of a pendulum, the final shape will be lengthened.

A paddle, or flat piece of graphite or wood, is used in the glass blowing process for flat areas such as the bottom of the piece.

To open the glass and finish the piece requires the artist to transfer his piece to another rod called a punty. It’s one of the trickier parts of glass blowing. And the jack scores the glass where the blowpipe will separate from the piece.

The image below is the reverse of the one above. The punty is now attached to the base and when the blowpipe is separated, that end is the opening for what will become a vase.

The final step involves tapping the piece off the punty with a block of wood. This step takes place next to the third furnace. Here a second person quickly places the vase in the annealer (an oven that cools glass at a controlled rate).

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