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This series was created by Alain Chamot (1971-2020).
Today’s going to be all glass, and actually all one piece of glass. On our second day in Venice, we watched a demonstration by Davide Salvadore and his team. Glassblowing almost always is a team effort, and everyone has a part. The studio was pretty small, our group was incredibly close – close enough to feel the heat – and my wife and I were in the front row.
This sequence picks up after the preliminary parts were done. The first thing they did was dip the pipe you see here into a furnace that was filled with molten clear glass to pick up the glass on the pipe in what’s called a gather. They blew a bubble through the pipe, shaped the glass into cylinder, and cooled it somewhat. (You can tell how hot glass is by the color – bright orange is really hot, and it gets closer to its real color as it cools.) Meanwhile, the little disks you see were laid out on a metal table and heated with a blow torch, because cold glass touching hot glass is a recipe for disaster. When the gather was shaped properly and cool enough, and the disks were hot enough, Salvadore rolled the cylinder on top of the disks, and they stuck to the cylinder.
The next step was smoothing the disks onto the bubble. That thing he’s holding in his hand is, I think, some kind of silicon pad soaked in water. (Traditionally, and most commonly, this is done with a thick wad of wet newspaper. Really.) The water turns to steam and between the steam and the pad itself forms a shield that keeps the glass from burning all the skin off his hand. He puts pressure on the glass through the pad to shape the glass. It’s kind of unbelievable, but it works.
Here’s the piece after the disks were fully incorporated into it.
They added another layer of glass on top of the disks. He’s using what’s called a block to shape it now. Blocks usually are made from cherry or some other very dense wood and like the newspaper they’re soaked in water. (Usually they sit in a buck filled with water unless they’re in use.) Blocks eventually get burned out, but it takes a while.
This piece was a platter, and as you can tell, the end you can see is solid. So the next problem is how to get the solid part at the back and the open part (where the air was blown to create a bubble at the front.
This is how you do that – you attach another pipe (called a punty) to the solid part. You start by putting a bit of glass on the punty and creating a cylinder. Then, once again, you have to match the temperature of the punty and the main piece so you can connect them without breaking either part. But the end where the punty is connected has to be hotter than the other end, because you do want to break that part off the blowpipe. When you’re ready, you connect the punty to the piece, put a drop of water on the place you want to break off, tap it lightly, and pray that it breaks the way you want. Pros can do it 99 times out of 100.
Now it’s time to turn it into a platter. There are two things that had to happen – the edge that was broken off had to be smoothed out and the opening needed to be spread out to platter shape. This is my favorite photo of the bunch because it involves the whole team. Salvadore is in the middle, shaping the side with the pad. The guy in back is turning the pipe to make sure the piece keeps its shape. (The glass is semi-molten the whole time.) The guy on the right is using the wood paddle to keep the rim smooth and even. And the woman is using her wood paddle to keep Salvadore from getting burned. It’s an intimate ballet, and everyone knows exactly where to be at all times. Salvadore barely said a word or made a gesture while he was making the piece.
Here the platter was almost ready for the final step. You can see that they have opened up the hole quite a bit, but right now it still looks like a bowl, so it’s not there yet.
This whole process took about 45 minutes from start to finish. The glass wouldn’t stay hot enough nearly that long, so they constantly take it from the bench and put it in a furnace (in the U.S., it’s often called, uh, a glory hole, but officially it’s a reheating oven, and people are starting to move away from the other term) to get it hot enough again. It needed to be pretty hot at this point because it had to be pretty soft.
This is the final step in making the platter: He’s spinning the pipe and centrifugal force is pushing the rim of the platter out and flattening it. This is really dramatic to watch when it happens, even if you’ve seen it twenty times before.
And here’s the final platter, spun out and flat. Although it’s still pretty hot, it’s cooled down enough to be solid, and it’s ready to be broken off the pipe. Once it’s off the pipe, they put it an oven for annealing, which is bringing the temperature down slowly so the glass doesn’t crack. It probably took about a day, but it can take a lot more time for big and heavy pieces. Some big pieces of cast glass can take months to anneal.
Finally, here is some more work from the studio. I thought it would be nice to see the actual colors, rather than the colors distorted by heat.