Fire and Steel--Forming Lampworked Glass Seahorses and Tropical Fish

Fire and Steel--Forming Lampworked Glass Seahorses and Tropical Fish

by Barbara van Look, Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Tubes and rods of colorful glass are turned into graceful glass focal components using a torch and metal tools in the complex and delicate process of lampworking (also called ''flameworking'' or ''torchworking''). While modern glass artists use gas-fueled flame torches, this kind of glasswork was originally done over an oil lamp and was termed ''lampwork glass'' and the process of creating it was called ''lampworking.''

Glass is made out of silica (the same material as computer chips) combined with other materials. Glass was first created about 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and the technology of glassmaking spread around the world along trade routes. Due to its malleable nature when hot, glass has been a popular material for making both useful and beautiful creations using a wide variety of techniques--including lampworking.

Some techniques of lampworking have been practiced since ancient times, yet only became a widely practiced technique in Murano, Italy, during the 1300s. It spread to Bohemia (part of the modern Czech Republic) and became part of the talented glassworking industry. From Bohemia, master glassworkers spread their knowledge, training apprentices from all over the world.

Modern lampworking glass comes in a number of different varieties. One is soda-lime glass, which blends silica sand with soda (sodium oxide) and lime (calcium oxide). Soda-lime glass has been manufactured for hundreds of years. Another is borosilicate glass, a blend of silica and boron oxide first developed in the late 1800s as advances in technology allowed for creating higher temperatures. Some lampworkers still use lead glass, which replaces some of the lime with the addition of lead, lowering the melting temperature needed for working the glass and allowing for a wider spectrum of intense colors.

Fire and steel combine with colorful sand to create beautiful glass tropical fish and seahorses, as master craftsman practice their skills in the ancient art of lampwork glass.

These colorful seahorse and tropical fish focals are created using lampworking techniques. The master glassworkers who created them shared these images of their process.
First, a shapeless mass of glass (called a ''gob'' or a ''gather'') is attached to the end of a solid glass rod, resembling a dipper in a jar of thick honey. These lampwork artisans get their colored glass locally, in China, creating the colors they want or need. The glass art created by these artists is often called ''Liuli''--an ancient Chinese word meaning ''glass'' that is used in the present day to refer to colored crystal glass created by hand using historical techniques.
The solid glass is then heated, twined with patterns and colors and stretched to create long ovals. These ovals end up serving as the bodies of the seahorses and fish.
They are curved, flattened and otherwise shaped by pressing them against steel and graphite tools called ''marvers'', which come in a variety of forms.
After the ovals are formed, they are flattened and shaped into fish or seahorse bodies.

Additional torch work is used to elongate the glass, pulling it into the shape of tails.
Colored glass is added to the fish to create tailfins, and the other end of the seahorse is pulled into a long and graceful neck
Metal tweezers are used to pinch the front of the fish, in preparation for creating the fish's mouth and the long elegant snout of the seahorse.
Additional colored glass is daubed onto the fish to create top and bottom fins, and onto the seahorse to create its backfins
Colored glass is added to to create the lips and the colored iris and black pupil of the eye.
The final addition is using a narrow glass rod to add a top loop to the fish and seahorses, making them easy to hang
After cooling, the final product is washed and inspected. Voila! Lampworked glass tropical fish and colorful seahorses.

Customer Comments

We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article, "Fire and Steel - Forming Lampworked Glass Seahorses and Tropical Fish," featured in a newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

"Lovely! I really enjoyed the pictures. I like seeing what is being described. The Artists in China are amazing."
- Lina

"This demonstration was awesome loved the history lesson as well. Thanks."
- Miranda

"A fascinating photo story of lampworked glass art and a news worthy article. Thank you."
- Ina of Kauai Gems

"Yes, I thought this was very interesting to see the formation of such a craft. The pictures make it look kind of easy but I'm sure it takes some time to learn the skill to do these. It's good to know that craftsmanship is still being used instead of mass production by machines. I've always wondered how they got the colors inside the glass."
- Kate

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