Among the most prized, durable and versatile materials in use, glass has been collected, traded and crafted since the stone age. Volcanic glasses like obsidian were used by our prehistoric ancestors long before metal or money were invented.
These pieces of natural glass were so useful and valuable to ancient people that they were transported to ancient sites thousands of miles from the volcanoes that gave birth to them. Used as sharp tools, weapons, art objects and valuable material for barter and trade, glass was highly prized long before other useful materials were in use. In ancient times as today, glass was a favorite medium for use by artists and craftspeople to make objects of beauty, utility and power. Glass has retained that distinction for over 250,000 years.
Practical, Functional Art
Around 3500 years ago expert craftsmen began glass making for art and practical use, without the help of volcanoes. This resulted in the use of glass in the everyday lives of many people in advanced cultures. Because these glass sculptures, vases and tools were durable, many retain their beauty and function millennia after they were made. While this bronze-age glass was useful and was crafted in several ancient civilizations, it was expensive enough that most people didn’t own it. By the 11th century stained-glass and mirrors began to become known in the Islamic world, and a few centuries later stained-glass windows were so common that residents of large cities saw them regularly.
After high-volume industrial glass production began four centuries ago, glass became a material most people in the industrial world owned and used. While it continued to be a favored medium for artists and scientific craftsmen, it also became a common packaging and building material. For several generations, glass objects from marbles to jewelry could be found in the pockets, on the clothing, on desks and in dining rooms of most civilized citizens. Now as has been the case for millennia, glass art is common in galleries, museums, shops and laboratories world-wide.
The expansion of glass as a favored material for so many uses can be explained by two simple facts; It is extremely durable, and readily available. The raw materials for producing glass are common, easy to access, and available all over the planet. More importantly, glass lasts for thousands of years, and it generally does no damage to the living things around it. People like glass, and it’s easy to understand why.
The Ecology of Glass
A wonderful aspect of glass use is that it does not leave a legacy of environmental damage as do so many other materials we use in modern civilization. Glass is 100% recyclable without degrading or diminishing in quality as plastics and metals often do when recycled. Glass that is discarded does not foul our waterways or pollute our ground water. Glass can be reused by home craftspeople who routinely re-purpose jars and bottles for storage or dining, and recycled by cutting & fire polishing to turn bottles into tumblers and jugs into vases. Whatever you do with it, glass is never a danger to fish, birds, plants and other wildlife in lakes, oceans and waterways as discarded plastics nearly all are.
Few materials can be crafted into such a wide range of art objects as glass. From tiny earrings to sculptures three stories tall, glass is used to create lasting beauty, to express abstract ideas and to craft useful objects that are functional while they express a feeling or communicate an abstract concept. Lampworking, glassblowing, glass sculpting, architecture and stained-glass crafting are a few of the specialties of artists that use glass as their preferred medium.
Glass in Your Life
How do you feel about and interact with glass objects and glass as a material? Please join the conversation and share your feelings and stories about glass art, marbles, favorite glass objects or working with glass. If you have questions, concerns or other opinions about this post, or your own ideas to add, please add your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
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