I became a lampworker by chance. Long fascinated by glass beads, a few years ago I read an article about an English bead maker who’d learnt her craft in California. What a shame I thought. I was heading for the U.S,A, but chilly Alaska, not warm, sexy California.
On arrival, I mentioned making glass beads to my Alaskan host. She made a phone call, we drove forty five miles to her neighbour’s house and there I had my first lampworking lesson. When I returned to England a short while later, I carried a rucksack stuffed with coloured glass rods, a bag of tools, a hot head torch and book entitled, ‘Everything You ever Wanted to Know About Glass Bead Making.’ You can imagine what they said when I went through U.S. customs.
I’ve been making glass beads ever since. It’s a hobby, it’s a passion, but it’s not a viable way of making a living. I’ve tried. Yet the magical effect when heat meets glass, and the challenge of controlling and shaping the molten glass in the flame makes me feel like an alchemist.
Hot and flowing glass has a life all its own, full of endless potential; when cool, it’s fragile yet durable, decorative and full of possibilities.
Each bead is unique. Even those made to the same design, at the same time, will have subtle variations of shape and tone. The charm of glass is that it’s unpredictable. It behaves in different ways according to my mood, the heat of the flame, even the weather.
Lampworking probably started with the Phoenicians. It was popular with the Romans, was a large scale industry in 18th and 19th C Venice and, in the last decade, has seen growing popularity in U.S.A, Canada and the U.K.
I know why. When it flows well, working in glass is almost a meditation. It’s magical, molten, hypnotic and enormously satisfying. When it goes wrong I curse and throw the results up the garden. I wonder what archaeologists will make when they find my mistakes in the future.