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The Art and Science of Blowing Glass

February 20, 2013

Glass Suncatchers

Credit: Luke Adams Glass

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There’s something magical about blown glass objects that captivates people. Over the past few years, there’s been an increase in interest in this art form, as well as in studios that not only sell unique glass creations such as rondels and sun catchers, but also offer a wide variety glassblowing classes.

Novices quickly discover that it can take years to master this craft. For some, it’s an interesting hobby, but for an artist like Luke Adams, glassblowing is a way of life.

A native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Luke knew from the age of 5 that he wanted to be an artist. His love of drawing led him to focus his career path in the creative world. As a student at Massachusetts College of Art, he was given a rare opportunity to study and work with some of the most talented artists in the country.

In college, Luke’s design interests ranged from photography to jewelry to bronze casting; ultimately, he was drawn to glasswork. Luke had found his calling. Immediately after graduating, he launched “Luke Adams Glass” and turned his passion into a career.

Luke explains that glassblowing is as much science as it is art. Most of the glass in our daily lives is a type of oxide glass, and its base component is silica (or silicon dioxide), commonly known as sand. But glassblowers don’t just go to the beach with a pail and shovel; that sand is loaded with impurities and contaminants. They get their main ingredient from places around the world where high-quality sand is readily available.

Because silica has a very high melting point and becomes “gluey” when it melts, glass blowers need to add other things into the mix to make the glass easier to work with. Soda and lime — known as fluxes — are key additives in glassblowing recipes.

Fluxes lower the melting point and increase the viscosity (flow rate) of the glass mixture, as well as strengthen it and make it more stable. Other fluxes include alumina, which can make the glass more durable, and zinc oxide, which can promote a brilliant shine while at the same time helping to prevent molecules in the glass from crystallizing.

Although most products made out of glass are clear, others can be extremely colorful. For Luke, here’s where art and science come together. Those colors, which can appear either transparent or opaque, are derived from infusing different metal oxides into the glass during the glass-blowing process.

For example, adding a little cobalt in the melt creates a deep, rich blue, and a dash of chromium makes an emerald green. A pinch of gold will produce a beautiful ruby red. With silver, the resultant color varies based on how this element is added to the melt. Copper can generate a wide range of color possibilities, depending upon other metals in the mix and factors as unpredictable as the atmospheric conditions in the melting chamber.

According to Luke, “Playing around with all of these variables is what makes the whole process so fascinating and creative.” He sums it up by saying, “Working with hot glass is really fun. I consider myself lucky to be able to do something that I love every day.” This excitement and enthusiasm are evident in every piece of blown glass that bears his signature. 

See all glass suncatchers.


Jim Therriault
Founder and Proprietor, New England Everyday Goods, Peterborough, NH.
http://newenglandeverydaygoods.com

Just a stone’s throw down the road from The Old Farmer’s Almanac headquarters, Jim operates a little store that specializes in practical products with interesting stories.

Jim’s official title on his business card reads “jack of many trades, master of none.” That comes from a diversified career that spans working in publishing, marketing, advertising, sales, and retail across a variety of industries ranging from information technology to citrus to footwear. Based on all the different jobs he has held, Jim whole-heartedly feels promoting and selling goods crafted in America is as good as it gets.

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