One artist is pushing the boundaries of the time- and labor-intensive art of glass blowing.
Glass artist Scott Slagerman, in collaboration with Jim Fishman, is involved with an ongoing series of works titled Wood and Glass. Slagerman and fortunately he has shared images of the unique and intricate process. He makes each glass vase by blowing directly into large slabs of wood that have been hollowed out. The contrast between the tough and solid texture of the wood—mainly walnut and mesquite—with the delicate and curvilinear glass designs are the strongest aspect of the work.
A statement from the artist is a clear expression of the philosophy behind the series: “Scott Slagerman has always been captivated by glass – how it is transformed from a fragile, yet unyielding solid state to molten fluidity and back again; and how this mutable substance, through a process that is both delicate and dangerous, can create objects both essential and esoteric. He is fascinated by the role that glass plays in architecture, as well as in the everyday objects that we find around us.”
Also, perhaps, this art is a commentary on man’s intervention into nature, how our efforts to shape a new world amidst the pre-existing world ultimately means that nature will be disturbed. Of course, Slagerman has made no statement to this effect, yet subconsciously this may have been one of his intentions in creating his work.
Just What Goes Into Glass Blowing?
There are four main areas which represent added health risks for even the most skilled glass blower:
Heat: Beyond the fact that glass blowers come into contact with furnaces heated at over 1000°C and heated malleable glass, there are a number of surfaces in a glass blower's workshop which indirectly absorb this heat, meaning that extra caution, as well as protective gear, are vital.
Respiratory Effects: The blend of materials—which give off potentially hazardous fumes or tiny particulates when heat is applied to them in the workshops—creates unique ventilation challenges.
Burns or Scrapes: Because glass must be heated to incredibly high temperatures in order to give it the malleable properties required for artists to mold it, first- and second-degree burns through direct, and indirect contact, is quite common.
Physical Strains: The precision involved in the work can result in undue strain on the body, as glass blowing entails working for long periods of time in uncomfortable positions (after all, the glass is the star).
University of Southern California (USC) Department of Chemistry teacher Phillip Sliwoski, who has 37 years experience with the art of glass blowing, teaches young artists who want to enter the field, guiding them on the important safety basics: “People don’t realise that when you heat glass up, suddenly gravity comes in...Glass flows and it wants to drop in your lap. That’s a quick reality check.”
This is one art form which—due to the abovementioned safety risks and years of dedicated work required to acquire the skill—should not be undertaken by everyone. We are happy to leave this one to the professionals: enjoying their exquisite work is a reward in itself.