Polynesian Glass Art

Glass art refers to individual works of art that are primarily made of glass. Items range in size and scale from:

  • monumental works
  • installation pieces
  • wall hangings and windows
  • works of art made in studios and factories
  • glass jewelry and tableware.

Glass was extensively developed in Egypt and Assyria as both a decorative and functional form. Whilst the Phoenicians invented glass, is was was brought into the mainsteream by the Romans. During the Middle Ages, the architects of the major Norman & Gothic churches and cathedrals took the art of glass to new levels. The proliferation stained glass windows as a major architectural and decorative feature expanded. Venetian glass from Murano is the result of centuries of evolution and Murano is still renowned as the birthplace of today’s glass art.

The early 1900s  was the pinnacle of the older glass art movement, as factory’s glass blowers were progressively eliminated by mechanical glass blowing and rolled window glass. The modern ateliers:

  • Tiffany
  • Lalique
  • Daum
  • Gallé
  • Corning
  • Steuben

– were able to take glass artistry to new levels, even in a mass production environment.

Modern Maori glass art Auckland New Zealand uses contemporary Polynesian design motifs to create stunning artworks.

Glass Jewellery

An original use of glass was as beads, small decorative pieces and a range of personal jewellery. Beads and jewellery remain one of the most popular forms of glass art worldwide. Over time, the fashion was wearing functional jewellery with glass components, as in pocket watches and eyeglasses / monocles.

Wearable Glass as Fashion

From the late 1900s, glass clothing in high fashion included expensive custom-designed garments created with sculpted glass. Made to order to exactly fit the body, partially or completely made of glass, the feature was precision as to fit and flexibility. The result is an invariably delicate garment for special occasions, not so much designed for regular daily use.

Glass Goblets & Pitchers

Some of the early and robust types of glass art were vessels. Goblets and pitchers were paramount as glassblowing evolved into artistic form. The evolution of etching, painting, and forming glass were exemplified on such vessels. As an example, the “millefiori” technique dates back to Roman times, if not earlier. Following on from that, creation of lead glass or crystal glass enabled the creation of vessels with a bell-like tone when struck.

During the 1900s, industrial scale production of glass work, including artistic glass vessels, was often referred to as “factory glass.”

Artistic Use of Glass

In the early 1900s, much of the glass available was produced in a factory setting. Often, individual glassblowers making their own personalized designs produce their own glass work in shared factory buildings. The idea of “art glass” – decorative works made of glass, often with designs or objects inside, began to expand. Artistic glass pieces produced in small production runs are generally referred to as “art glass.’

Glass in Sculpture

From the 1970s onward, availability of well-designed smaller furnaces increased. This gave rise to the so-called “studio glass” movement. These glassblowers blew their glass vessels outside of a factory setting, usually in their own private studio. This led to smaller production runs of particular artistic glass styles, a trend the spread worldwide.

21st Century Glass Art

There has been a massive explosion in the underground art scene revolving around functional glass art.  Over time, more artists got involved with pipe making and with the introduction of social media the market exploded. Top artists are able to bring in upwards of one hundred thousand dollars per piece with the market only expanding.

Several of the most common techniques for producing glass art include:

  • blowing
  • kiln-casting
  • fusing
  • slumping
  • pâté-de-verre
  • flame-working
  • hot-sculpting
  • cold-working

Cold work includes traditional stained glass work, plus various ways of shaping glass at room temperature. Glass can also be cut with a diamond saw, or copper wheels embedded with abrasives and polished to give gleaming facets.

Fine paperweights were originally made by skilled workers in the glass factories  during the “classic period” of 1845-1870. Since the late 1930s, a small number of very skilled artists have used this art form to express themselves, using mostly the classic techniques of millefiori and lampwork.

Art is sometimes etched into glass via the use of acid, caustic, or abrasive substances. Traditionally this was done after the glass was blown or cast. In the 1920s a new mould-etch process was invented, in which art was etched directly into the mould so that each cast piece emerged from the mould with the image already on the surface of the glass.

This reduced manufacturing costs and, combined with a wider use of colored glass, led to cheap glassware in the 1930s, which later became known as Depression glass.

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