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Collecting and Appreciating the Art of Hand-Spun and Blown Glass

Teri Silver is a journalist, broadcast anchor, and Public Relations Specialist who enjoys collecting hand-spun and blown glass.

This article will break down some of the basics of how glass is blown and spun, while also taking a look at the hobby of collecting glass art.

This article will break down some of the basics of how glass is blown and spun, while also taking a look at the hobby of collecting glass art.

The Sparkle of Glass

The art of spinning and blowing glass is a labor of love. Spinning liquid glass into fine threads takes skill and patience—although I am not an artisan, I sincerely appreciate not only the beauty of the finished piece but also the talented hands from which it was created.

Sure, you can buy glass trinkets made in China, but hand-crafted pieces are treasures for curio cabinets and shelves. I have been collecting spun and blown glass for many, many years. (These photos represent only a portion of my collection).

Carousel Alley

Carousel Alley

Glass-Blowing Studio

The process for creating the glass itself uses three furnaces. The main one contains a crucible to store the molten glass. The second furnace, called the Glory Hole, reheats the object. The third furnace is called a lehr or annealer and is used for cooling the glass.

Glass must be cooled very slowly (over several hours or days) to keep it from cracking or shattering under thermal stress. Glass-blowing tools include a blow pipe or tube, tweezers, a punty rod, mandrel or pontil, paper, shears, paddles, blocks, jacks, and workstation bench.

In order to heat the glass so that it looks nearly white, the torch must be 2,400°F. After air bubbles are released from the hot glass, the torch temperature is reduced to about 2,000°F. The actual blowing is typically done between 1,600–1,900°F.

The terms glassblower, gaffer, or glass-smith describe those who blow or spin hot, liquid glass into shapes. In the glassmaking studio, a lampworker handles the torch while the artisan spins or blows into a pipe to create the glass.

Rondels and Glass Blowing

Spun or blown glass pieces begin with rondels: variously sized clear or colored beads or disks made from very hot, liquid glass. Shaped by a footing tool, hand-spun glass rondels are mostly solid in color (unlike sheet glass, which can have a small palette). They are thicker than blown rondels. Flash, or mouth-blown, rondels are solidly colored or clear glass disks with colored edges. Blown rondels are smoother and thinner than hand-spun disks.

When creating a mouth-blown piece of glass, air through a long pipe creates a bubble that forms the circular or irregularly shaped glass object. A specially designed pole (called a “pontil”) detaches hot glass from the blowpipe while forming the object’s shape. When the molten glass is formed, the piece is cooled in an annealing oven.

Rondels in various colors

Rondels in various colors

Cane, Murrine, and Frit

Rods of glass may have only one color or up to a multitude of hues and patterns. A cane is a single rod of colored glass that, when combined with murrine—rods with images cut into cross-sections—can be rolled to create patterns. Pieces rolled from hot, liquid glass are layered into large sections called frit.

Canes are created when the glassblower loads molten glass on a punty—a metal or iron poker-type rod. The cylinder of hot, colored glass is dipped into the furnaces, retrieved, shaped, and cooled.

Murrine pieces are designed in whatever way the artist chooses by applying layers of molten, colored glass around a centerpiece. The rods are reheated, stretched and cooled, and then cut into cross-sections. Images show through as the patterns are layered.

Frit is granulated glass particles that are fused together and layered into sheets or larger pieces. Frit is often used in compounds for ceramic glazes and enamels.

The Art of Collecting Blown Glass

As any art collector knows, choosing pieces that bring a smile to your face—as long as you can afford them—is the way to start, and, yes, blown glass is art in itself.

Availability of these pieces has decreased over the years, in my opinion; I now don't come across as many gift shops and artisans that feature spun glass. But the pieces are still out there. I find old (but still beautiful) glass figurines and such in antique stores and resale shops. You can find these pieces on the Internet—eBay is a good place to start—and in finer gift stores that have assortments on display. Tourist locations around the United States and beyond feature specialty stores that have blown and spun glass.

(Check out Geneva-on-the-Lake in Geneva, Ohio from Memorial Day to mid-September. Crystal Artists Glass Blowing has an amazing assortment of spun glass for sale. I love this place! They're on the main strip).

Art shows, county and state fairs, and other festivals that bring in vendors are always a good draw for glass artisans, and they would appreciate your appreciation!

So, if you're looking for a little sparkle in your life and cannot afford crystal, consider adding spun and blown glass your collector's shelves. They'll be with you for life!

Sources

© 2013 Teri Silver

Comments

poetryman6969 on February 19, 2015:

Love this kind of art. You can never buy every piece that you like because there are so many pretty pieces.

WriterKat from KittyLand on August 07, 2014:

It's so intricate and beautiful. Thanks a lot for sharing such a nice hub on a unique topic

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on November 20, 2013:

This looks beautiful and you have described the process of creating these lovely art pieces so well. I had the opportunity to see this process, LIVE and it was an amazing experience. That's an interesting hobby you have, of collecting them.

Thanks for sharing this interesting and beautiful hub!