Arts and Crafts Essays/Table Glass
FEW materials lend themselves more readily to the skill of the craftsman than glass. The fluid or viscous condition of the "metal" as it comes from the "pot," the way in which it is shaped by the breath of the craftsman, and by his skill in making use of centrifugal force, these and many other things too numerous to mention are all manifested in the triumphs of the Venetian glass-blower. At the first glance we see that the vessel he has made is of a material once liquid. He takes the fullest advantage of the conditions under which he works, and the result is a beautiful thing which can be produced in but one way.
For many centuries the old methods were followed, but with the power to produce the "metal," or glass of extreme purity and transparency, came the desire to leave the old paths, and produce work in imitation of crystal. The wheel came into play, and cut and engraved glass became general. At first there was nothing but a genuine advance or variation on the old modes.
The specimens of clear glass made at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries are well designed to suit the capabilities of the material. The form given to the liquid metal by the craftsman's skill is still manifest, its delicate transparency accentuated here and there by cutting the surface into small facets, or engraving upon it graceful designs; but as skill increased so taste degraded. The graceful outlines and natural curves of the old workers gave place to distortions of line but too common in all decorative works of the period. A little later and the material was produced in mere lumps, cut and tormented into a thousand surfaces, suggesting that the work was made from the solid, as, in part, it was. This miserable stuff reached its climax in the early years of the present reign.
Since then a great reaction has taken place. For example, the old decanter, a massive lump of misshapen material better suited to the purpose of braining a burglar than decorating a table, has given place to a light and gracefully formed vessel, covered in many cases with well-designed surface engraving, and thoroughly suited both to the uses it is intended to fulfil and the material of which it is made. And not only so, but a distinct variation and development upon the old types has been made. The works produced have not been merely copies, but they have their own character. It is not necessary to describe the craft of the glass-blower. It is sufficient to say that he deals with a material which, when it comes to his hands, is a liquid, solidifying rapidly on exposure to the air; that there is hardly a limit to the delicacy of the film that can be made; and, in addition to using a material of one colour, different colours can be laid one over the other, the outer ones being afterwards cut through by the wheel, leaving a pattern in one colour on a ground of another.
There has developed itself of late an unfortunate tendency to stray from the path of improvement, but a due consideration on the part both of the purchaser and of the craftsman of how the material should be used will result, it may be hoped, in farther advances on the right road.
- Novelty rather than improvement is the rock on which our craftsmen are but too often wrecked.