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Sculpting hot blown glass.
Glassblowing is the process of forming glass into useful shapes while the glass is in a molten, semi-liquid state. Glass blowers make all types of glass creations from simple vases to large hanging multi-piece sculptures. The colors and styles of their creations are as unique and individual as the glass blowers themselves. Well-made glass blown creations are usually very sought after with special sales of the creations often selling out in just hours.
Traditionally, the glass was melted in furnaces from the raw ingredients of sand, limestone, soda, potash and other compounds. The transformation of raw materials into glass takes place well above 2000°F (1400 K). The glass is then left to "fine out" (allowing the bubbles to rise out of the mass), and then the working temperature is reduced in the furnace to around 2000°F. "Soda-lime" glass remains somewhat plastic and workable, however, as low as 1000°F.
Glassblowing involves three furnaces. The first, which contains a crucible of molten glass, is simply referred to as "the furnace." The second is called the "Glory Hole," and is used to reheat a piece in between steps of working with it. The final furnace is called the "lire" or "annealer," and is used to slowly cool the glass, over a period of a few hours to a few days, depending on the size of the peices. This keeps the glass from cracking due to thermal stress.
The major tools involved are the blowpipe, the punty (or pontil), bench, marver, blocks, jacks, paddles, tweezers, and a variety of shears. Each tool serves a very important part of the glass blowing process:
The tip of the blowpipe is dipped in the molten glass in the furnace. The molten glass is 'gathered' on to the blowpipe in much the same way that honey is picked up on a dipper.
Then, this glass is rolled on the marver, which was traditionallly a flat slab of marble, but today is more commonly a fairly thick flat sheet of steel. This forms a cool skin on the exterior of the molten glass and shapes it.
Then air is blown into the pipe, creating a bubble. Then, one can gather over that bubble to create a larger piece.
The blocks are used similarly to the marver to shape and cool a piece in the early steps of creation.
The bench is a glassblower's workstation, and has a place for the glassblower to sit, a place for the handheld tools, and two rails that the pipe or punty rides on while the blower works with the piece.
Jacks are a tool shaped somewhat like large tweezers with two blades. Jacks are used for forming shape later in the creation of a piece.
Paddles are flat pieces of wood or graphite used for creating flats.
Tweezers are used to pick out details or to pull on the glass.
There are two important types of shears, straight shears and diamond shears. Straight shears are essentially bulkily built scissors, used for making linear cuts. Diamond shears have blades that form a diamond shape when partially open. These are used for cutting off masses of glass.
Once a piece has been blown to its approximate final size, the bottom is finalized. Then, the piece is transferred to a punty, and the top is finalized.
Miniature Glass sculpture
Traditionally, a lampworker, usually operating on a much smaller scale, historically used alcohol lamps and breath or bellows-driven air to create a hot flame at a workbench to manipulate preformed glass rods and tubes. These stock materials took form as laboratory glass, beads, and durable scientific "specimens" — miniature glass sculpture.
The craft is still practiced today; the modern lampworker uses a flame of oxygen and propane. The modern torch permits working both the soft glass from the furnace worker and the borosilicate glass (low-expansion) of the scientific glassblower; who may have multiple headed torches and special lathes to help form the glass or fused quartz used for special projects. The molten glass is attached to a stainless steel or iron rod called a punty (or a punty rod, a pontil, or a mandrel) for shaping and transferring a hollow piece from the blowpipe for an opening to create from.
The actual "blowing" of glass using a tube did not occur until sometime between 27 BC and AD 14 in Syria. This advancement transformed the material's usefulness from a very time-consuming process into a mass-producible material which could be quickly inflated into large, transparent, and leakproof vessels. Glassblowing techniques spread throughout the Roman world. Venice, particularly the island of Murano, became a centre for high quality glass manufactured in the late medieval period. Murano glass creations still remain the most highly treasured and sought after pieces in the world today.
In addition to glassblowing as an art, many individuals pursue glassblowing as a hobby. It is one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America.
The relatively recent "studio glass movement" began in 1962 when Harvey Littleton, a ceramics professor, and Dominick Labino, a chemist and engineer, held two workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art. They began experimenting with melting glass in a small furnace and creating blown glass art. Thus Littleton and Labino are credited with being the first to make molten glass available to artists working in private studios.
This approach to glassblowing blossomed into a worldwide movement, producing such flamboyant and prolific artists as Dale Chihuly and Dante Marioni. Lino Tagliapietra was the first Murano-trained artist to leave and spread his knowledge in the United States.
In 1971, Dale Chihuly began the Pilchuck School of Glass near Stanwood, Washington. Pilchuck School of Glass became the source of much of the current American Studio Glass movement, and continues as such today.
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