The art of glass: an ancient tradition with modern appeal

When winter wipes out colour, we can escape the monochrome within our homes through art and design. And what better way to invite colour and light in than with art glass? In recent years, glass artwork has been steadily gaining popularity, with artists like Dale Chihuly reinventing the concept and becoming celebrities in the art world.

When did the concept of glass as art come into existence? Glass itself was probably invented accidentally when sand melted and fused in cooking fires – but archaeologists tell us that humans have been purposefully making glass objects for regular use and decoration for thousands of years, with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and then Rome laying the foundation.

Glas_3Italian art glass – and Murano glass in particular – is often the first to come to mind today. An island just north of Venice, Murano was established as a glassmaking hub when Venetian glassmakers were forced to move there in 1291, (Venetian authorities wished to drive out the fire hazard). The glassmakers soon became Murano’s most prominent citizens, with enviable rights like sword carrying and immunity from state persecution – and the ability to marry their daughters into Venice’s top-ranking families.

Today, some of the companies that own historical glass factories in Murano are among the most important and innovative glass brands in the world, Venini, Ferro Murano, Barovier & Toso, Simone Cenedese and Seguso Viro among them. They work with Italian glass masters like Afro Celotto, Luigi Onesto, Giuliano Tosi and Luca Vidal, whose works are often available at

Glas_1Of course, Murano is not the only source of beautiful glass worthy of being called art. Toledo, Ohio, USA has been a major hub for glass artists since 1962, when Harvey Littleton opened a workshop with small furnaces that, for the first time, allowed artists to create their own work rather than hand off their designs to industrial furnaces.

Littleton taught American artist Dale Chihuly, who is today one of the world’s undeniable masters of art glass. Of course, Chihuly also worked at a Venetian glass factory (Venini) studying the team approach he’s famous for. To give a sense of Chihuly’s mind-boggling work: at a 2011 show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Chihuly’s team installed a 12.8-meter, 4,535-kilogram Lime Green Icicle Tower – a work comprised of nearly 2,400 individual pieces of glass blown in the artist’s Seattle studio.

Glas_2Never one to be left behind when it comes to art and design, Scandinavia began to earn a reputation for its art glass in the early 20th century. Sweden led the way with Kosta’s Art Nouveau and Art Deco styled glass and Orrefors with its unique “Graal” technique for creating decorations within clear glass and later the “Ariel” sandblasting technique for creating colourable air pockets inside glass (today they are part of one company, Orrefors Kosta Boda). Finnish iittala and Danish Holmegaard did not limit themselves to purely functional glass, either: iittala’s Oiva Toikka Birds and Holmegaard’s sculptural vases are prime examples.

Scandinavian minimalism also happens to create an ideal backdrop for displaying colour-infused glass works. Picture a neutral-toned room with, say, an orange Arne Jacobsen  lounge chair complemented by an orange-tinted Venini Lighthouse Lamp by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, any Afro Celotto vase, or a piece by the Finnish Riihimäki glass company – and you’ve captured the essence of modern style.

Visit the glass auction items page to find your favourite light-enhancing works of art.

Anastasya PartanAnastasya Partan, a Boston-based freelance writer, is a guest blogger for She was born in Moscow, raised in the US, and has lived in New York, Washington, DC, London, Paris, and Copenhagen. With both a corporate and creative background, she writes for international brands and explores topics related to lifestyle, culture and the arts.

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