Anybody know the birthplace of American glassmaking? Anybody? It’s South Jersey. Yep, we’re not just the Garden State, our bountiful sand and forests led a German immigrant, Caspar Wistar, to found the country’s first successful glass factory in Salem county back in 1739. Mr. Wistar actually lived in Pennsylvania, but you could say NJ was friendly to industry even before we officially became a state.
Anyway, I’ll bet you also didn’t know that Salem Community College in Carneys Point, NJ is the only school in the country where you can get an associate’s degree in scientific glass technology. Check out the Samuel H. Jones Glass Education Center. So why the sudden interest in glass; or more specifically glass blowing? Think about it, it’s the closest we mortals can ever come to creating beauty by breathing life into something inanimate. (OK, OK — you can also perform CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and literally breathe life into a person as well.) One of the last books my late father-in-law checked out of the library was How To Blow Your Own Glass, and I share his fascination with this craft. Maybe it’s the combination of high heat, purifying fire and the way liquid form changes into solid that makes glass blowing a metaphor for transformation.
There also seems to something meditative and purposeful to blowing glass. You need both technical skill and some creativity to make wine glasses or vases or a vessel or tube. How much lung power does a good glassblower need? If you are a good swimmer or wind instrument musician could this be a professional advantage? And a profession it is — not just as an artist, but as a scientific glass blower. Check out Mr. Kiva Ford here in the New York Times discussing his passion for the glass.
I think the other aspect that draws me to this craft is its timelessness. You don’t use a keyboard or some computer program to mass produce these objects. They take time and thought and may not turn out right on the first try. So you try again and improve your technique until you are happy with the result….. sort of like writing, isn’t it?