In recent years, fused glass art has experienced something of a comeback. Once very popular, this style of glass art eventually fell to the wayside in favour of other variants, and spent several decades in relative obscurity, as glass-blown art became synonymous with the material in a decorative capacity.
As mentioned, this tendency became somewhat subverted in recent years, as society once again became acquainted, and fell in love, with fused glass art. The vibrant colour schemes and unusual patterns this method of glass-blowing allows for captured the imagination of many an art lover tired of the ‘standard’ type of decorative object, and fused glass art creators such as House of Ugly Fish saw a considerable increase in demand and interest as a result. Soon, an increasing number of households the world over was opening its doors to fused glass ashtrays, wall art, bowls, or perhaps the item most synonymous with the technique, kitchen splashbacks.
As popular as this art form is once again becoming, however, many of the men and women bringing fused glass art objects into their homes are woefully unaware of the origins of the technique. There is a misconception that glass-fusing is a modern technique, only a few decades old and only now becoming popular, but this could not be further from the truth; in reality, the history of fused glass art is long, storied and rather interesting.
As fused glass art specialists, and one of the largest companies in the field in Britain, we here at House of Ugly Fish want to contribute to change that status quo. We like our customers to not only know what they are buying, but also be somewhat aware of where the technique of glass-fusing originates from and what differences its modern-day iteration has when compared to the ‘classic’ form. That is why we have taken it upon ourselves to produce a blog post going over the history of fused glass art, from its ancient origins through to the second wind it is enjoying in the present day.
The history of fused glass art begins roughly three and a half millennia ago, in ancient Egypt. It was by the shores of the Nile that artisans first discovered a way to produce coloured glass objects through a mixture of silica, fluxes, and a variety of oxides melted at temperatures in excess of 2500 degrees Celsius.
Initially experimental, this technique quickly proved efficacious enough to become widespread among Egyptian artisans, who used it to create beads, bottles, bowls, jewellery, and even slightly larger objects such as jars and vases. The bright colours and intricate patterns of these decorations proved highly popular among Egyptians, and as a result, fused glass art quickly became widespread across that ancient civilization. Many Egyptians began to display fused glass art objects in their homes, and the technique was taken up by an increasingly higher number of artisans across that ancient civilisation over subsequent years.
Though it is accepted by most specialists that fused glass art had its start in ancient Egypt, however, this is far from a consensual theory. A significant number of historians make a case for the technique originating from ancient Rome as well, since molten glass items were definitely a large part of domestic decoration across that civilisation.
The most likely explanation for this discrepancy is that Romans would have found out about fused glass art upon conquering ancient Egypt, and incorporated it into their own culture. The Romans was well-known for its cultural appropriation towards conquered civilisations, and there is no reason not to believe fused glass art would have come into the Empire the same way.
Fall from Grace
Whichever the true origin of this art, however, it Is widely accepted among historians that either of these civilisations – ancient Rome or ancient Egypt – would have been the birthplace for molten glass techniques, within roughly the same time frame. Similarly, it is accepted that, once popularised, these techniques became the industry standard for glassware for at least two millennia, and were at the core of the majority of decorative glass objects produced during that period in history.
As with every other aspect of craft and industry, however, this technique would eventually be surpassed and replaced by a more advanced alternative. Once the glass pipe was invented, glass blowing became the norm for glasswork, and glass-fusing – along with fused glass art – fell somewhat to the wayside, becoming at best a secondary form of glassware production. This status quo would endure for centuries, until the resurgence of fused glass art at the dawn of the new millennium.
Despite causing it to become overlooked by the majority of glasswork artists throughout the centuries, the invention of the glass pipe did not spell the end of glass-fusing as a technique. It would take several hundred years, but fused glass art would once again rise to prominence, seemingly from out of nowhere, and recapture its place within the hearts of lovers of colourful artwork.
This resurgence took place in the early decades of the twentieth century, mostly within the American market, where the technique was rediscovered and once again became quite popular. This, in turn, helped the technique enter mainstream consciousness once again, and it was not long at all before fused glass art was once again becoming popular in other parts of the world. The next century or so only helped solidify this status quo further, and the success companies such as the House of Ugly Fish enjoy nowadays speaks volumes about the popularity this technique has achieved in present-day western society.
As far as what the future holds for this type of glass artwork, only time will tell. Fused glass art online is once again becoming widespread, and the colourful, vibrant nature of most of the artwork created through this technique has helped ensure items such as those produced by The House of Ugly Fish reach thousands of households the world over. One can only hope this trend will continue in years to come!