1997 Contemporary Flamework Glass

1997 Contemporary Flamework Glass

1997 Contemporary Flamework Glass

1997 exhibition catalog text

Historical Background

The use of an intense flame to melt and manipulate glass rods or tubing was historically called “lampworking.” The name derived from the early practice of blowing a jet of air through the flame of an oil lamp to achieve enough heat to soften, fuse and blow the glass. Today, with the utilization of powerful gas torches the process has been renamed “flameworking.”

Just when the use of this relatively simple technique began is difficult to date. The method was probably available to Roman Empire glassblowers. By the 15th century, Venetian glass workers were making beads at the lamp. In the same century in Nevers, France, lampworkers fashioned small figures and incorporated them in to scenes. The lampworking process was first described in print in 1679 and was detailed in technical manuals for making scientific apparatus.

During the 19th century, the town of Lauscha, Germany became a center for the lampworking industry. Besides scientific wares, the region became known for its blown Christmas ornaments and beads. During the 1850s in Europe and the United States, glass companies had lampworking departments as part of their operations. Southern New Jersey, a hub of the glass industry for the country, had the largest concentration of lampworking businesses. The 1850s were also the time when lampworked flowers and designs were encased into paperweights. Troupes of lampworkers traveled through the world demonstrating this ancient art to entranced crowds at fairs and paid appearances.

At the beginning of the 20th century, powerful torches with controlled flames were created in response to industrial needs. By mid century, a few pioneers in the international industry chose to use the flame to create works of art. As this new artistic field developed, a new direction and image of flameworking evolved. Today, the artist/flameworker is pushing the tradition of working at the flame well beyond its humble beginning.

Gay LeCleire Taylor, curator
Museum of American Glass

When Gay Taylor, curator of the Museum of American Glass, first mentioned the museums plan to host an exhibition focusing on International flameworked glass, I enthusiastically accepted her invitation to guest curate. The exhibition permitted me the unique opportunity to feature flameworked glass that I respected — masterworks of quality and artistic merit. Glasswork exemplifying excellence and originality. As curators, Gay and I occasionally disagreed on small points. However, we both felt that the most important criterion for this exhibition was to show work reflecting the beauty of a personal point of view and style.

The interesting challenge was identifying and choosing glass objects of Fine Art, Decorative Art and Craft for exhibit. These qualities unite the exhibition with a mystical energy, reinforcing the visual experience and attitude that good work transcends categories. I believe the artistic flamework activity, within the contemporary glass movement, is on the verge of a major breakthrough. Absorbing the current advances in glass technology with the new availability of compatible glasses, utilizing elaborate computerized ovens, as well as superior epoxies used in space technology, many of these artists are articulating a new expressive language with their medium. The significance of this work and its economic accessibility predicts a new, exciting future. The growing number of artists are challenged by the possibilities of this ancient craft, reinvented for the twenty-first century.

This exhibition is a singular opportunity for glass enthusiasts, and the general public, to experience flameworked glass beyond the familiar novelties made during craft fair demonstrations or for sale in holiday displays at American malls. This exhibit features glass objects equal to the historic best in glass history.

This survey documents excellence, originality and diversity in the technically difficult glass working process of flameworking. It is especially meaningful that “Contemporary Flameworked Glass” be exhibited in southern New Jersey, where the largest concentration of flameworked glass manufacturing is taking place in the world today. It is also home to the most successful and oldest program in the country offering a Scientific Glassblowing degree at Salem Community College in Penns Grove, New Jersey. As a 1963 graduate of this program, it has been a great joy to me to have become a part of the studio glass movement. As an artist and art collector who has dedicated the past 34 years to flameworking, it was exciting to guest curate this exhibition.

Paul J. Stankard