HISTORY OF LAMPWORKING
Have you heard the term lampworking but have no idea what it is? Glass bead making (or lampworking) is an ancient art that has been practiced for more than 3,000 years (the earliest glass beads are thought to date as far back as 1400 B.C., as found in Egypt).
The art of lampworking got it’s name from oil lamps used by early artists as their heat source to melt the glass. Today, most artisans use a mix of propane and oxygen gasses. However, the art of making small glass objects and beads continues to be called lampworking.
Glassmaking used to be a very guarded secret. Those who knew it passed it on only to their sons, but rarely to anyone else. In some cultures, owning glass was once reserved for royalty. In other cultures, it was a status symbol.
Today, glass is everywhere. It’s in our windows, it’s items such as drinking glasses, mirror, etc. We often take glass for granted. People of the past would be amazed by the abundance of what was once such an honored and rare medium.
Glass can be worked in many ways. Lampworking is just one of the techniques used to manipulate glass. You can create beads, small sculptures, buttons, marbles or vessels. You can also mold it, fuse it together, “slump” it over a mold in a kiln, or blow it into different shapes.
There are only a few companies that make the glass most artists use today. The most common glass used for lampworking is a colorful soft glass from Murano, Italy called Effetre. However, any glass from window “float” glass to wine bottles can be melted down and wound onto a mandrel to make a bead.
A glass rod or cane is held into a flame or “lamp” and wound around a coated stainless steel or copper mandrel. The bead is then shaped and smoothed by rotating the mandrel through the flame and using gravity.