my not-so-successful 1st attempt of a lampworked glass jellyfish
i'm not sure when it happened.
i am smitten with glass.
i had wanted to try my hand at some sort of glassmaking for sometime when my husband surprised me with a one-on-one session in a glass blowing studio. i will never forget the wall of heat that hit me when the furnace door opened, or the huge crucible of glowing molten glass it revealed.
my instructor was knowledgeable and adventurous and so i was able to make a number of items in my first, and subsequent, visits.
although my skills didn't allow this to be as thin and elegant as i would have liked, i was lucky to be able to make a bowl which involves both making a bubble with a blowpipe and breaking it open and spinning it quickly - allowing the centrifugal force to open the shape.
i had seen some large paperweight-like items in the New England Aquarium gift shop that had a jellyfish encased in glass. naturally, i thought it would be a perfect project for someone with my level of (in)experience.
making a bowl is a strange thing and involves moving glass from one punty to another so the top ends up being the bottom.
the instructor had never seen the item i was talking about. although common now (and there are some stunningly life-like examples being made by artisans like Rick Satava), this was years ago. i had no cell phone with photos or internet for reference. so, with my pathetic - i'll be it excited - description, the instructor was game. she even pulled out the highly coveted gold frit for the tentacles.
understanding glass as a material, how it will move, and where it needs to move means that glass objects are rarely made from the bottom up. the jellyfish project was no different. on more than one occasion i had lost faith that the poor instructor even knew what a jellyfish looked like and was sure she was leading me down a path of great disappointment - gold frit and all.
then all of a sudden, it was a jellyfish.
worked upside down and right side up, moved back and forth from punty to punty. getting gather after excruciatingly heavy and uncontrollable gather from the crucible. shaping and melting in colours and shaping some more. all of a sudden, it was exactly what i had imagined. and by my hand (with heaps and heaps and heaps of help)!
i couldn't even see the process, i couldn't understand the steps, there were so many moments i thought there was no way this could work and here it was. and so it was. the love affair began in earnest.
i got into lampworking by accident (you can read more here) and it was a match that was meant to be. i had found glass again, and this time the set up was scaleable making it realistic to have a set up in my home.
lampworking, also known as flameworking or torch working is a technique where glass rods or tubing is manipulated using a flame.
the discovery that beads could be made easier and with less waste if worked from a molten state (rather than lapidary methods) brought with it the lampworking technique. like much about glass, the history of lampworking is up for debate but if we use the definition of a steady, focused flame then we can date it back as far as the 5th century BC.
all through Europe and Asia glass pieces were being made for religious and domestic uses. artistic inventiveness and remarkable beadmaking flourished and disappeared on and off throughout the ages.
glass began to really take hold in Venice between 900 and 1100 AD. by the 13th century, Venice had become such a major glass centre that in 1291, the government moved the glass industry from the city to the island of Murano. by isolating the industry the government was able to keep a monopoly on glass technology. in order to keep the secrets of glass, glassblowers were forbidden to travel with the penalty being that their family would be jailed and the escaped glassblower pursued and assassinated.
Murano is still associated with high quality glass today, but by the 17th century some Venetian craftsmen had manage to escape and helped make Germany, France, Florence, Nevers, Amsterdam and Innsbruck all centres for glassmaking.
with glass available from more than one source, lampworking was able to take off.
the history of the lampworker is that of half entertainer and half merchant. lampworking equipment is light and easily carried so the entrepreneur could carry this throughout Europe as both an attraction, but also to make the wares for sale on the spot. still today you can find lampworkers at fairs and markets demonstrating their skills.
seeing a craftsperson work with glass is an incredible thing. a skilled artisan makes it look easy. but glass blowing a jellyfish really showed me how working with glass is about problem solving as much as it is about understanding the material.
because we have to get worse before we get better...
although i'm having a little more success, i'm a long way from right and find myself breaking every encasement rule ever written...and not in a good way.
the obvious difference in scale between the blown glass jellyfish and the lampworked pendant isn't the only thing that sets these apart. the process for achieving such a similar form was completely different.
like all skills, glass is one that takes a lifetime of discovery, adventure and breakage to learn. looking back now, i can see the skill - and the mind - that my instructor needed to have to guide me through the jellyfish. to have never seen the item i had in mind. to have never tried her hand at making one before. to draw on all her knowledge, skill, creativity (and maybe even luck). and to have her first attempt be so successful - shows the power that craft and creativity can have on our lives.