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Glassmaking—A History of Magic

Glassmaking—A History of Magic

Glass is fascinating. Of course I would think this, I’ve made it my business, but I defy you to finish this post and not be blown away by the magic of what was once a hot liquid. I have yet to see my cup of coffee transform itself in quite the same way!

Where it all began

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the history of glassmaking, I’ve the most basic of backgrounds prepared to share with you, starting with the invention of glass, some 3,600 years ago (give or take).

Experts had long believed that glassmaking originated with the ancient Mesopotamians. However, new research was revealed at the end of last year that indicated much finer, higher quality examples of glassmaking were produced first in Egypt. More study will be needed to determine for sure where the process began, but I for one am excited to follow along as scholars do their work!

Early techniques

Core forming and cast were both early glassmaking techniques that used molds. Shaping glass around a ceramic core and letting the glass cool was the basis for the core forming method, one of the earliest approaches used by glass makers. Casting was similar, but instead the molten glass was poured into a mold.

Fusing slices of glass together to create a mosaic was another early glassmaking technique. This is what the lovely millefiori (Italian for "thousand flowers") method that Venice is famous for evolved from.

The next level

Blown glass, the next advance in glassmaking, came into being around 50 B.C.E. In and around Jerusalem. Glassmakers found they could create a bubble of glass by blowing into a tube. What I find most exciting about this moment in glass history is it’s when glass started to move from being a luxury to becoming more of a common household item. Glassblowing allowed for easier and faster production of objects.

Glass could even be blown into a mold to create additional decorative elements. But glassblowing artists were also able to pinch, pull, paint or roll their blown glass creations to add additional decorations. Unfortunately, examples of early painted glass work are rare because the pigment wore off.

Many different cultures have made their own impacts on glass throughout time, from China to the Romans, from Medieval stained glass to Bohemian crystal. I’ll share more about the fascinating history of glassmaking another time!

Elizabeth Hestle

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