The History of Lampwork Glass Beads in the United States

Lampwork is the technique of transforming molten glass into beads, sculpture and other artworks. This ancient craft was originally preformed by using alcohol lamps. By increasing the temperature of the flame with a bellows, similar to blacksmithing, ancient lampworkers were able to melt and shape glass.
The artisans living in Murano, Italy have been creating glass art for centuries. Their techniques were kept secret from the outside world and only shared by passing down the knowledge within families. This knowledge of the craft was judicially guarded requiring all artisans to remain on the island of Murano their entire life. This isolation from the rest of the world sealed the secrets of lampworking, insuring the livelihood for each generation.
I guess you’re wondering about now how did lampwork come to the United States? About 30 years ago a number of artists visiting Italy became intrigued with Murano glass beads. Individually, they come home and started experimenting with glass to create beads for themselves. There was virtually no lampwork equipment such as torches, glass or techniques in existence in America. Torches had to be modified; American stain glass from the development at the turn of the century became the glass of choice and techniques developed strictly through experimentation. Slowly, the secrets of the ancients gave way to this small group. Unlike Italy, knowledge was shared freely among this group and techniques grew quickly. The original handful of artists then began to share their ideas with anyone interested. Today, forming glass with fire is spreading throughout America like wildfire. Lampwork is even being taught in colleges.
I joined the movement about 12 years ago, when knowledge and techniques were still in their infancy. Because of my art background, I approached lampwork as another artistic medium to express myself. Learning torching techniques has been the hardest medium to master. One must understand glass chemistry. Glass colors are created by mixing chemicals where as painting is based on mixing pigment colors. The second hurdle was the learning curve of lampwork techniques. Unlike painting, where virtually anyone can pick up a brush and paint, lampwork is achieved by the accumulation of slowly mastered techniques.

An artistic expression in glass only comes after years of experience of understanding the interactions of glass chemistry and the fragile and illusive dance of glass in the flame. All my 40 years of artistic knowledge and experience were challenged by my adventures into lampwork. It only took making my first bead to know I was in love with the flame. Today, I create only the things I love: flowers and sea life beads. Come share with me the fascinating world of glass.

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