The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Glass engraving

 

The abrasion of a glass surface, through engraving, etching or sand-blasting, to leave a mark.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Glass
Historic area of significance  Stourbridge and Dudley, West Midlands; London
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK  Roman
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees  Unknown
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  101-200
Current total no. of craftspeople  101-200 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)

 

History

At its simplest, engraving involves using a tool to abrade the surface of the glass in order to leave a mark. There are many ways to do this, and many tools available to do it, ranging from the simplest diamond-point hand tool to complex machinery.

Glass engraving dates back to Roman times and has been done in one form or another since then. Modern engraving was revived in the twentieth century by artists like Laurence Whistler, and the Guild of Glass Engravers (GGE) was established in 1975. In modern times the use of drill engraving has made the craft something anyone with a small hobby drill could take up and try.

 

Techniques

  • Point engraving/line engraving: using a hand-held diamond or tungsten carbide point to scratch the surface of the glass, making a contrasting white line which sparkles in the light. Very few practitioners left.
  • Stipple engraving: tapping a very hard sharp point, either diamond or tungsten carbide, onto the surface of a crystal glass to produce tiny dots which together make a design. A range of tones can be produced by varying the density of the dots. Stipple engraving is done entirely by hand. Very few practitioners left.
  • Drill engraving: using a rotating bur in an electric drill which can cut into the glass more deeply than by hand to create the illusion of three dimensions.
  • Copper wheel engraving: using copper wheels varying in width, diameter and profile, powered by an electric motor, to make different types of cut in the glass. A slurry of carborundum grit, oil and paraffin is applied to the turning copper wheel and the glass is held against the wheel to make the cut. Coarse grit is used for rapid and large scale cutting, fine grit for more polished, delicate work. Very few practitioners left.
  • Sandblasting/sand engraving/sand carving: projecting fine grit onto glass at high pressure. This is an industrial technique commonly used for mass-produced designs but also used by individual artists.
  • Graal: a combination of engraving and glass blowing skills which originated in Sweden. A glass bubble made of one or more layers of coloured glass overlaid on clear glass is engraved, cutting through the layers to reveal the different colours. It is then reheated on a blowing iron and re-blown to the final shape of the object.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Shortage of training opportunities: ‘Have a go’ sessions are very popular but there are far too few opportunities for people to learn the craft. A few people teach courses when they can or teach students at home but opportunities to do this are reducing. Colleges are not offering engraving as part of their glass courses and this is a real missed opportunity. Students are being encouraged to learn blowing, slumping and fusing, then coming out of college to discover that they cannot afford to run their own studios and cannot continue with glass. However engraving can be done at home in a small space and is affordable. It can be done as a hobby (as most members of the GGE do) or as full-time or part-time professionals.
  • Lack of recognition: People (even in the glass world) who have not seen contemporary glass engraving are unaware of how exciting it can be, and many seem to think that the craft is only about writing inscriptions on trophies.
  • Lack of recognition: Many glass engravers are very frustrated that even important collections of engraved glass (for example in the V&A) are poorly displayed and are not lit properly so it is never likely to attract attention or interest. Glass in Western society played a huge role in the rise of industrialisation and museums are missing the opportunity to show how important a substance it has been and still is. As an art form it is also rarely given as much space in museums as (for example) ceramics yet.
  • Shortage of raw materials: For most engravers there is not really a shortage of materials except for the stipple engravers who need 33% lead crystal (which is really difficult to find).
  • Market issues: Engraved glass is a luxury item and people are not willing to spend the money when a cheaper version will do.
  • Ageing workforce: concerned that they are getting older and will soon move from being critically endangered to near-extinct.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

The Guild of Glass Engravers has a list of practising craftspeople on their website.

 

Other information

Current membership of the GGE is around 200, with approximately 100 people of the various skilled grades (Craft Member, Associate Fellow and Fellow) and 80 lay members who have not undergone any examination to get to higher grades in the Guild. The number of engravers outside of the GGE, working for companies such as Dartington as paid employees or running their own businesses, is not known but is thought to be relatively low.

This craft is really due a revival. It is fun and satisfying to do and at its most basic can be done on inexpensive glass with simple tools like a mini hobby drill. It can be done in a small space at home and is safe (if basic health and safety is taken into account such as wearing a mask if engraving dry). While the best people at this are glass artists, for many it is possible to create pleasing pieces without being able to draw. If someone can copy or trace and hold a pen steadily they can engrave simple things.

 

References