Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Ancient Art of Glass Blowing is Alive and Well in Northern Michigan

Glass is truly ancient. People have been making things out of glass about 3,500 years! In pre-Roman times, glass makers were making vessels, but glass blowing had not yet been invented. These early glass jars were made by wrapping hot glass around a core made of clay and dung (yuck). Glass blowing was invented in the Roman Empire in about 50 BC.

Glassblowing came to America in 1607 with the settlers of the Jamestown colony. Glass was used mostly for bottles and windows. Artists and designers didn't become an important part of the glassblowing scene until early in the 20th Century. In 1960, glassblowing finally moved out of the factory and into the artist's studio. The studio glass movement began in America but almost immediately spread around the world. When the artists took over, innovation and creativity exploded and glass became firmly established as an art medium. (Here Artists Market glassblower Lynn Dinning demonstrates this ancient/modern art.)

Today that experimentation continues. Glass artists are creating new techniques, making imaginative use of color, creating a wide variety of decorative, sculptural works and smashing barriers as quickly as they are created.

In Northern Michigan in general and the Petoskey area in particular, we are blessed with several talented and creative practitioners of the ancient yet modern art of making and shaping glass.

Lynn Dinning's path to becoming an outstanding glassblower is as long and winding as her journey from the big city of Detroit, where she was born, to her current home and studio in Northern Michigan's tiny Good Hart. In Detroit, her art form was theater lighting, sound, and scenic design. When she migrated north, Lynn began designing wearable metal objects and fiber garments. In 1982, she seized the opportunity to try glassblowing in North Carolina. She has been creating beautiful glass ever since. Many Northern Michigan residents know Lynn as a professional ski instructor who has been named one of the 100 Top Instructors by SKI Magazine.

Harry Boyer of Harbor Springs was a science major at Bowling Green State University when he met Dominic Labino, head of the glass blowing department. He had been interested in art primarily as a fun distraction from the rigors and discipline of science but he was immediately struck by the relationship between science and art. He then met a second creative genius, Erie Sauder, an incredibly gifted woodworker and innovative businessman who developed the Sauder Museum and Craft Village in Ohio. Harry worked with Sauder for eight years. In over thirty years as a glassblower, Harry has continued his complete fascination with the mixture of art and science, the chemistry and physics and the history of glass, from the natural formation of volcanic glass to the ancient development of glass blowing, to being able to mold the beauty of Northern Michigan into the properties of glass.

The glassblowing team of Jay Bavers and Glenna Haney live in East Jordan, Michigan, where they create award-winning lighting, wall groupings and vessels as Jordan Valley Glassworks. Unlike Lynn and Harry, Jay was born with a love for glass and a family connection to its history. He is a third generation glassblower. His grandfather was a glassblower in Vilnius, Lithuania. He came to the United States and started blowing glass and he set up his shop in Brooklyn. The family lived above his shop. Jay would go downstairs first thing in the morning before school and help set things up before the men came to work. He enjoyed sitting there, watching the guys work and eventually apprenticed with his grandfather. Jay and Glenna enjoy working together and with Jay's son and daughter, the fourth generation of the glassblowing family.

There is more to making art from glass than just glassblowing. Linda Manier of Wolverine, Michigan, practices the even older art of kiln formed fused glass that dates back over 5000 years to the era of the Phoenicians. The knowledge they gained while working with this unpredictable and exciting material continues to inspire creative work to this day. Linda creates bowls, plates and a variety of beautiful decorative items by shaping and fusing together various colors of glass at high temperatures.

Toni Hansen and Dolly Osborne of Petoskey have been using still another technique to make glass jewelry designs for almost five years. Dolly encountered dichroic glass jewelry at an art fair. She and Toni decided to attend a class to learn how to make their own fused glass jewelry and have been making stunning glass jewelry ever since. Dichroic glass uses thin layers of metal oxides within the glass that allow light to be simultaneously reflected and transmitted, producing vivid color combinations. The artists fire layers of different colors of dichroic glass together in a kiln to create colorful, one-of-a-kind pendants and other items.

We are extremely lucky to have so many talented artists in Northern Michigan producing an incredible variety of beautiful creations using the ancient, modern and constantly evolving art of working with glass.

Source of information on the history of glassblowing: Glassblowing.com


Unknown said...

Very nice write up. Beautiful works and great support for the glass art community.

Tiffany Gholar said...

I am in love with that yellow multicolor vase. Gorgeous!

Fridman said...

Nice historic review. It was helpful with something that I right. Thank you.