By Cameron McCullough Photos Matt Elliott (www.mattelliott.com.au) and Supplied
Glass blowing is an ancient craft/art-form that has remained virtually unchanged by the encroaching technology that vies to change our lives. Glass blowing is the art of gathering hot, molten glass on a blow pipe and then adding colour on various layers, manipulating and shaping the hot glass into beautiful shapes with intricate, delicate, beautiful designs and colours incorporated into the final art glass piece.
Rye glass artist Roberta Easton has spent over 25 years working with glass; learning her skill, mastering the craft and expressing her creativity through the medium of “hot glass”. Her pieces are masterpieces in their own right.
At the studio where she works, Gordon Studio Glassblowers in Red Hill, the furnace runs at 1,120 degrees Celsius. When the glass is being melted for a new day’s work it is heated even higher to around 1300 degrees.
“Inside the furnace there is a big crucible where we melt the clear glass,” said Roberta.
“Imagine getting honey on a knife, sliding the knife down the edge of the jar, and continuously turning it so that the honey doesn’t drip off. That is what it’s like to gather the molten, lava like, clear glass out of the furnace on a blow pipe.”
Glass blowing is very technical, and takes years, and an immense amount of practice, to learn the skills.
“You never stop learning, and the glass is always challenging you,” said Roberta.
“From the moment you start a piece until the moment you finish and put it away in the annealing kiln, you are dealing with a molten, unpredictable medium where unexpected things can go wrong at any point in the process. And taking it all in your stride!
“It can be really tricky, and it can, at times, be a love-hate relationship. But glass is my passion. When you see those beautiful pieces come out of the kiln the next day, there’s nothing like it.”
Part of the challenge with working with molten glass is to essentially trap a picture or design in the work.
“There are so many ways to apply colour. I use a technique that puts the background colour of the piece onto a blowpipe. A bubble is then blown. When it’s cool enough the blowpipe is plunged into the furnace where it is encased in the hot, molten, clear glass.
“This is then encased with up to three more layers of the hot molten, clear glass from the furnace. Other colours and patterns are applied to the piece via the various layers of glass.”
Then it is finally mouth-blown with air, and shaped.
“I’m not just making a vase or bowl, but the shape is designed to showcase the artwork within the piece.”
Roberta feels fortunate that she has been able to pursue her infatuation with glass because of the support of Gordon Studio Glassblowers.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity Eileen and Grant have given me to work with them,” said Roberta.
“They are wonderful at what they do, and I am honoured and proud to work with them. It has allowed me to pursue my passion, in the part of the world where I want to live!”
Roberta assists the glass blowers with making their glass in the Red Hill based glass studio. She also works in the retail gallery there and runs the beginner glass blowing classes for those wanting to experience the art for themselves.
“I am lucky to be able to do a wide range of jobs working there,” said Roberta. “And do different things again when working on my own.”
Glass blowing is gaining popularity right now thanks to the reality TV show ‘Blown Away’.
“We’ve noticed a real spike in people interested in the process of glass blowing since the show began airing.”
“People get a really good feel for what is involved in glass blowing from the show. The heat and intensity, skill and design, and the unpredictability of the medium.”
Roberta will be exhibiting her work at the Mornington Rotary Art Show in January.
“I was contacted by the art show about three years ago to feature my work, and they have asked me back again,” said Roberta.
“I really love the opportunity to show people what I do.”
But for Roberta, it is not about being the best, or producing the most, but putting her heart and soul into each and every piece that she does make.
“My plan over the last few years has been to focus on what I’d call ‘career pieces’”, said Roberta.
“These are pieces that represent me as an artist, and that I can throw myself fully into.”
The results are beautiful works of art that represent the artist’s love and care.
“At the end of the day, I just love what I do. I hope that shows through in my work.”