Glassworking (scientific glassware)
The working of glass, including techniques such as glass blowing (heating glass and blowing air into it) specifically to make scientific apparatus. See the separate entry for glassworking.
|Historic area of significance|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK|
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
|Current no. of trainees||10|
|Current no. of skilled craftspeople||101-200|
|Current total no. of craftspeople||201-500|
Glassblowing involves heating glass and blowing air into it, which is known as inflation. It can be used for the making of scientific apparatus, vases, paperweights, and is now used in art and sculptures. Glassblowing was used in the production of sheet glass used for windows. The technique was used by German glass craftsmen in the 11th century and further developed by Venetian craftsmen in the 13th century. These skills spread to England and advanced the bottle-making trade. Glassblowing enabled the production of larger pieces of glass, as well as the production of thinner glass for sheet making. Machinery was introduced by 1887, enabling 200 bottles to be produced per hour, more than three times quicker than traditional blowing techniques. In the twentieth century glass became part of the ‘scientific sector’ creating a shift in the industry from a craft to a ‘precise science’ thereby creating a schism between scientific glassblowing and art, design and sculpture glassblowing, often referred to as studio glass.
In the early 1980s, there was very little glass making happening in the UK. It was taught at some colleges, although this was largely targeted towards industrial glass making, and there were a lot of scientific glass makers in universities and colleges. Glass blowing took place in Dartington and similar companies. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that studio glass making began, with the likes of Annette Meech, Norman Stuart Clark, Peter St Clair, Peter Leyton, The London Glass Studio etc.
Techniques of glass work include: hot glass work, warm glass work, cold glass work and lamp work.
Little has altered in the technique of traditional glassblowing, yet the process is quicker due to the introduction of newer materials and technologies. Three different furnaces are needed: the furnace, the glory hole and the kiln. They are used at different stages of the process, all at different temperatures. Glass is placed in the furnace, when ready it is removed with a blowpipe, made of hollow stainless steel. When removed stylistic touches can be added, such as colour, before it is placed in the glory hole. Every step in the process is vital to the outcome of the object. The glass can be freely blown and swung, or blown into a pre-existing cast. The glass therefore, derives its form and texture from the mould, each method giving the glass its unique shape. The final stage of heating takes place in the kiln: when ready, the glass can be removed, and it fully hardens as it cools down.
Scientific glassblowing: The manipulating of glass, usually in tubing or rod form in an open flame to produce apparatus used for scientific purposes. This task may be carried out by hand or machine. In addition cold working of glass for scientific purposes involves the cutting, grinding and drilling of glass using various abrasive tools. Scientific glassblowing shares similar techniques with glass bead making and paperweight producers.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Training issues: A fully skilled or competent scientific glassblower is becoming a rare thing these days as there are no longer any schools or colleges teaching scientific glassblowing in the UK. The future of the skill is entirely dependent on university-based glassblowers and a few businesses who are willing to undertake in-house training. The British Society of Scientific Glassblowers has a long established full syllabus for training a scientific glassblower which is respected worldwide by the industry, with student or trainee scientific glassblowers in several countries undertaking its exams. However, there are no government accredited scientific glassblowing qualifications, and the BSSG has not been able to achieve the government accreditation required to move forward in the Modern Apprenticeship programme which simply doesn’t work for this profession. The cost of training is high both in material and time so it’s a very big ask for employers to undertake. There are fewer than ten student scientific glassblowers throughout the country.
Dilution of skills: While the numbers of glassblowers actively involved in scientific glassblowing appear healthy (201-500, with 101-200 skilled craftspeople and fewer than 10 trainees), these numbers include those employed in industry who may only ever perform one or two operations as part of an assembly line and their training has been limited to these particular operations.
Craftspeople currently known