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What Is Art Glass?

By Sonal Panse
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Art glass primarily refers to glass works of a more decorative than functional intent that are created by individual glass artists and/or their few assistants using small-scale furnaces in glass studios. While contemporary art glass is notable for the hand wrought aspect and individual creativity, vintage glass made prior to the 1960s can include factory-made glass artistry, produced by small teams of factory workers.

With machines taking over the production of utilitarian glass items in the nineteenth century, workers had the time to try their hands at more artistic creations. The modernistic movement in art also affected glass-making, with institutes like Corning in New York, the Bauhaus School in Germany, and the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague introducing glass-making courses with an emphasis on fine art training. As a result, glass artists began incorporating fine art effects in their work.

Companies like Lalique, Daum, Galle, Royal Leerdam Crystal and Kosta Boda in Europe, Tiffany's and Steuben's in the USA, and Hoya Crystal in Japan became renowned for their art glass production. Murano in Italy, with its long tradition of experimentation in glass, remained in the forefront and is generally considered the birthplace of the modern art glass movement, having inspired artists from around the world.

Glass artistry on the strictly individual level, however, didn't come about until the 1960s, with the studio glass movement taking off in the USA. American artists like Harvey Littleton, Dominic Labino, Marvin Lipofsky, Bill Boysen and Dale Chihuly created one-of-a-kind glass works using many different and novel techniques, and initiated glass programs at various US universities. The studio movement then went international. Many countries now have societies, grants and competitions to encourage upcoming glass artists and facilitate an exchange of ideas and methods.

Some of the main art glass making methods include glass-blowing, casting and fusing glass, free form glass-making, lampworking glass and pattern-molding glass. The different types of glass include stained glass, painted glass, etched glass, beveled glass, fusion glass, blown glass, leaded glass and cut glass.

Noted for their elegant forms, vivid colors and rich textures, fine art glass works cover a wide spectra of items - vases, jars, pitchers, decanters, bowls, goblets, cups, dishes, plates, tumblers, wine glasses, bottles, paper weights, candle holders, lighters, ashtrays, beads, jewelry, vanity items, figurines, sculptures, centerpieces, glass panels, mosaics and accent tiles – and make great additions to the home. Prices, depending on artist and complexity of design and make, vary from the affordable to the unbelievable, from a few hundred to several hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

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Discussion Comments

By bythewell — On Jun 28, 2012

@irontoenail - Oh, I love Tiffany lamps. Unfortunately, I don't think I could afford one that you would call proper art glass these days, since a hand made Tiffany lamp would be very expensive.

But one of the nice things about the modern era I think is the rise of tiny art galleries that showcase new artists. You can get really gorgeous bits of art glass there for next to nothing, and who knows how much that art glass vase will be worth in a few years.

Not that that should be your guide. You should pick pieces that speak to you and that you enjoy. If possible, go to the studio and see how they make their pieces. It's so amazing to watch blown art glass being made in the traditional way.

By irontoenail — On Jun 28, 2012

@browncoat - Actually, there are some beautiful examples of modern stained glass, in churches and elsewhere. It went very well with the Art Nouveau movement for example and I know that Alphonse Mucha, the artist who is perhaps most strongly associated with that movement, contributed quite a lot of beautiful examples of stained glass, which paid tribute to the older versions but had a new slant.

And of course, that particular movement is quite famous for a lot of different kinds of art glass, perhaps because it was on the cusp of the modern factory era, and beautiful objects of art could be produced in greater numbers by a small amount of people. Think, for example, of a Tiffany lamp, which are still very popular. Those originated with the Art Nouveau movement along with many other forms of vases and glass objects we take for granted today.

By browncoat — On Jun 27, 2012

I would argue that there was individual glass art before the 1960s in the form of stained glass windows. I think people often look at stained glass and think of it as simply very beautiful but not really a work of art. But someone designed and created those panels of glass in order to put it together just right.

If you look at the stained glass panels in some of the churches and cathedrals in Europe, you will be astonished by the skill and artistry that someone must have shown to create them. And there are collections of antique stained glass art in museums as well. In some cases the glass was actually painted with images as well.

I don't think there is anything in the modern era that can really compare to it. We don't spend so extravagantly on religion as we did.

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