The exact origin of glassmaking is unknown but is believed to have begun roughly 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia, an area situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present-day Iraq and Syria. Known as the Cradle of Civilization, the geographic area became a hub of agriculture, government bureaucracies, complex societies, trading, literature and art such as glass.
In Mesopotamia and Egypt, glass objects were often cast (made using a mold) or core-formed by wrapping glass around a core of mud. Once hardened, the mud core could be carefully removed to form a hollow vessel. Ancient recipes for making glass have been recorded in the Mesopotamian cuneiform writing system. Metallic oxides were added to emulate jewel tones. The same basic ingredients of sand and soda ash are still used today. This photo from the Corning Museum of Glass shows an early core-formed vessel. Note the design, which is an early example of feathering.
In the Late Bronze Age glass was a highly prized commodity with many objects having been found in palace complexes in Egypt. Three primary workshops have been located in Egypt, which likely produced ingots which were then shipped to other workshops. This concept of secondary workshops is reinforced by the discovery of Mycenaean glass beads in an ancient shipwreck.
Feathering Technique in Glass - Tools and DesignFeathering is a design technique where molten glass of a different colour is wound in a spiral around a vessel. Using a metal tool the spiral is then pulled up to achieve the feathered pattern. The width of the tool will affect the delicacy of the final design.
The glassblower needs to have a steady hand and consistent speed while pulling. The vessel may need to be reheated between pulls to keep the glass at the right consistency. If it cools down the glass cannot be pulled smoothly.
Variations of the design are named by the number of pulls up and down, such as 3 up 2 down, 4 up 4 down.
Feathering from Antiquity to Art NouveauThe feathering technique figured prominently in many of the blown glass vessels typical of the Art Nouveau movement. Louis C. Tiffany (1848-1933) was an American artist associated with the Art Nouveau movement. Trained as a painter, he became interested in glassmaking at the age of 30.
In 1889 Tiffany met French Art Nouveau glass artist Emile Gallé and, in 1893, established a glass factory in New York.
For years Tiffany had admired Roman and Syrian glass, some of which had an iridescent surface. That effect was thought to have been caused by water seeping between layers and creating separation during the time that the vessels had been buried.
Tiffany was able to achieve and improve upon that look by incorporating metallic oxide into the glass making process. The iridescent effect was named Fabrile, which was patented then later changed to Favrile. This glass was used in many stained-glass windows, Tiffany lamps and other artforms. Some of his blown glass pieces incorporate the feathering technique.
Art Nouveau and Robert Held Art GlassRobert Held was approached by Waterford to create a series of blown glass vessels for them. The work became known as the “Evolution Series” and much of it featured the feathering technique.
This photo shows the 4 up 4 down pattern. The pale purple glass was wrapped in a spiral over the darker purple base then pulled up and down with a rake to create the very fine lines of this delicate pattern.
Moiré Pattern in Blown GlassTaking the design element further, Robert produced blown glass vessels featuring double threading, or 8 up and 8 down. This is a very challenging technique to master.
The result is similar to an optical illusion; you can see the slight offset between the first and second threading. This is called a moiré pattern.
Perfume Bottles - Ancient Vessels and Modern Blown Glass Bottles
Returning to our brief journey through history, we’ll resume the adventure in Egypt. Perfumes have been in use for over 4000 years and the Egyptians produced the most sought-after fragrances. Early perfumes used ingredients such as cinnamon, myrrh, lily and cardamom and were kept in small vessels made from ceramic or stone. Glass became more commonly used and the vessels more elaborate, especially when the process of blowing glass was developed around 2000 years ago.
This exquisite blown glass perfume bottle by Robert Held features the feathering technique. The bottle itself is about 4 inches tall so this gives you an idea of how elaborate the design is. A very limited number of perfume bottles are available for purchase in the gallery in Parksville.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this very brief journey through history with a focus on the feathering technique. The next time you see the design you’ll recognize the pattern and know more about its development through time.
References and resourceshttps://www.cmog.org/article/origins-glassmaking history and videos
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_glass_trade history of the ancient glass trade, Bronze Age
http://www.theglassmakers.co.uk/archiveromanglassmakers/nl7text.htm text and photos showing the core-forming process and feathered design
https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tiff/hd_tiff.htm Biography of Louis C. Tiffany and photos of his designs
Perfume Bottles Then and Now: The History of a Sensory Art Form (mymodernmet.com)
The Long History of Perfume (thoughtco.com)