The Berkshires Massachusetts
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The Art of Glass

Glass workingTransforming glass from a relatively unimpressive raw material into the extraordinary pieces we admire in area galleries seems almost like a mythical process.

The art of glassblowing dates back to the dim ages of antiquity, when mankind first started merging a superior artistry with utility, and has evolved into the venerated art form it is now. Even Jamestown, the first American settlement, boasted a glass producing industry. The process in that era was much more laborious: cumbersome, hand held iron tools were used in an extensive process that could take days.

Although the means used by modern glassblowers has simplified drastically, it's still an involved procedure. Glass is comprised of varied elements, the foremost being sand. Glass is created through fire, while brilliant colors are achieved by adding the precise amounts and combinations of various oxides. The batch is then melted over a furnace, which is sealed overnight. The glass itself takes about 7 - 10 hours to melt, and the process is continued the next day. The time consuming nature of glassblowing keeps ventures small and individual, and because each piece is individually crafted, every one is as unique as a fingerprint.

Art glassGlassblowing was originally done in large factories, but technological advances in this century moved the art from the factory to the studio, marking the first time that individual artists and galleries have had control over the process, and thus the end product. It's this trend that's also sparked the artistic renaissance in glassblowing. Because the artisan retains control, glassblowing itself has moved farther away from functionality and catapulted into the realm of high art. Stop by the glassblowing studios in the Berkshires and view beautiful, handcrafted utilitarian pieces, such as bowls, vases, and glasses, as well as more frivolous works. Artists have explored inspiration to the fullest means, creating abstract sculptures and free-form pieces that exploit the endless possibilities of this medium. Their motivation seems to come from the material itself: many artists note that molten glass is an incredibly stunning yet impossibly difficult substance to work with. The end piece, however astonishing it may be, is often a compromise between the artist and the art, a suspended moment in time when the material itself seemed to compromise with its creator.

Artists are driven to use their hands, to bring their abstract ideas into fruition, and hardly is this more stunning than when working with glass. Whether you credit it to the play of light on the glass, the varying densities of this unusual medium, or the graceful shapes created, the pieces themselves seem to exhibit a distinct connection between art and the surrounding natural world.

Art glassThe Berkshires, rich in cultural as well as natural beauty, features a host of glassblowing studios where you can view and purchase these stunning pieces. As remote from a major metropolis as the Berkshires may seem, their many glassblowing galleries place this area at the forefront of the contemporary glass movement. You'll find pieces from some of the most prominent artists in the world, and burgeoning artists also feature their work locally. Each gallery strives to display the wares of artists who push the limits of working with glass, and rotating exhibits make for a lively and unparalleled selection. Stop in the following studios or galleries for a look at stunning works of glass art.

Berkshire Center for Contemporary Glass
Harris St. W., Stockbridge, 232-4666.

Fellerman & Raabe Glassworks
South Main St. (Rt. 7), Sheffield, 229-8533.

Habitat Galleries
117 State Rd. (Rt. 7), Great Barrington, 528-9123.

Holsten Galleries
Elm St. (next to post office), Stockbridge, 298-3044.

348 Broadway, downtown Saratoga Springs, 584-5090.

Young & Constantin North River Glass Artist's Studio & Gallery
Deerfield Ave., Shelburne Falls. 625-6422.

Photos: Christopher Constantin at work at Young & Constantin North River Glass Studio. Ruby Color Pot with Cobalt Interior by Gary Zack at Symmetry Gallery. Chihuly Chandelier over Venice, Italy represented by Holster Galleries.