The Art of Glass
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.
Glassblowing 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.
The 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
Berkshire Center for Contemporary Glass
Harris St. W.,
Fellerman & Raabe Glassworks
South Main St. (Rt. 7), Sheffield, 229-8533.
117 State Rd. (Rt. 7), Great Barrington,
Elm St. (next to post office), Stockbridge,
348 Broadway, downtown Saratoga Springs, 584-5090.
Young & Constantin North River Glass Artist's Studio &
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