A Glass-Lover's Guide to Lampwork Beads, Collectible Art Glass and Installations
Lampwork Glass Jewelry and Blown Glass Art
Did you know that contemporary lampwork glass beads are made using the same Venetian glass bead making techniques developed by Murano glass artists in the 13th and 14th centuries?
Have you ever wanted to learn how to make glass beads?
Have you ever marveled at Dale Chihuly's breathtaking blown glass installations, chandeliers, and other glass objets d'art?
In this article I'll share my experience learning to make lampwork glass beads with master artist Kristina Logan and share with you her videotaped advanced glass bead making presentation at the Corning Museum of Glass, the history of Venetian glass, a virtual tour of the awesome Museo del Vetro glass museum in Murano, Italy, and the incredible blown glass masterpieces of world-famous glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Types of Lampwork Glass Beads
The most popular types of Venetian glass beads from Murano, Italy are:
- Fiorato glass beads with floral designs (including my mom's favorite Venetian Wedding Cake beads)
- Ca' d'Oro glass beads embedded or coated with real gold foil
- Gemmato glass beads decorated with small bits of colored glass
- Caramella glass beads made with opaque white cores ("white hearts") enrobed in brightly colored transparent glass
- Millefiori glass with bright, colorfully patterned canes
- Sommerso glass with small flecks of colored glass
- Avventurina glass with sparkling copper flecks
Are You a Fan of Art Glass?
How Do You Feel About Lampworked Glass, Blown Glass and Fused Glass Art?
Lampworked Glass Beads Workshop
Learning to Make Glass Beads with Master Glass Artist Kristina Logan
As a jewelry designer and lover of glass beads I had always wanted to learn how to make them, and my husband is equally fascinated with hot glass. We spent our honeymoon in Florence, Italy and Tuscany as part of a group, dividing our time between guided and self-guided sightseeing tours and lampwork glass bead classes with world-renowned glass artist and talented teacher Kristina Logan.
We learned to heat the glass rods slowly so they didn't shatter from thermal shock, and to keep the steel mandrel perfectly horizontal while rotating it slowly and continuously under the molten glass as we tried to wind it into an evenly round bead. Then we learned to pull thin strands of stringer and apply them to the base bead, and how to encase the entire bead in a thick layer of clear glass to create a magnifying effect, similar to a paperweight.
Keeping the surface of the base bead warm enough for the stringer decorations and/or clear class casing layer to stick to it while keeping the majority of the core cool enough not to slump and become misshapen because of gravity was quite tricky. And there were so many things to keep in my head at the same time!
Then there was the issue of trying to remember what the actual colors of the glass would look like together once the bead cooled, since they all were a glowing red under the torch. As soon as we finished our beads we also had to remember to cover them immediately with a fiber blanket so they didn't cool too quickly (and fracture due to thermal shock) before we got them into the hot annealing kiln, where the glass would anneal and cool slowly, relieving the internal stress and preventing tiny stress fractures that could cause the bead to break unexpectedly in the future.
Kristina is an awesome teacher, and after the first day of the lampwork bead making class my head was spinning with all the new information crammed into it in a very compressed period of time... but when our beads came out of the kiln, it was pure magic!
Did You Know? Glass Is Molten Sand
Glass is sand that has been super-heated until it melts. Fulgurites - natural glass tubes - are formed when lightning with a temperature of 1,800 °C (3,270 °F) or hotter strikes quartzose sand or silica sand on a conductive surface and instantaneously fuses the silica grains together.
Some of the First Beads My Husband and I Made with Kristina Logan During Our Honeymoon in Italy
As you can see, the first beads my husband and I made were hardly professional quality, but we were absolutely thrilled and delighted with our handiwork. I couldn't wait to bring them home and string them into a necklace interspersed with some sterling silver "Bali beads" from Indonesia as a precious memento of our honeymoon and our first glass bead making adventure together.
Watch World-Famous Glass Bead Maker Kristina Logan in a Studio Demonstration At The Corning Museum of Glass
My husband and I were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to learn lampwork glass bead making from world famous bead maker Kristina Logan. Kristina already was quite well-known back in 2000 when we took her class in Tuscany, and had studied with such hot glass luminaries as Bandhu Scott Dunham and Dale Chihuly. Since then she has become one of the world's best-known and most admired glass bead artists in her own right.
Enjoy this rare opportunity to watch Kristina explain and demonstrate some of her signature techniques and expert knowledge in this video of her Studio Demonstration at the Corning Museum of Glass.
Note: The audio on this video is extremely low, so turn up the volume on your speakers before you start watching.
Stunning Books Featuring Glass Beads to Inform and Inspire You
I highly recommend the following glass bead books whether you're interested in learning more about the process of making lampworked glass beads or you just enjoy looking at and admiring beautiful works of art in hot glass.
Beads of Glass: The Art and the Artists
By Cindy Jenkins
This is one of the first books on glass bead making I purchased, and I still love looking at it. It begins with an inspirational gallery of absolutely gorgeous beads by dozens of the world's most famous glass bead artists including Kristina Logan, Kimberly Affleck, Stephanie Sersich, Pati Walton, Kate Fowle Meleney, John Winter, Heather Trimlett, Barbara Becker Simon, Kim Wertz and Greg Galardy, to name just a few. Then these world-renowned glass bead artists explain the techniques they used to create them. Whether or not you make glass beads, you'll enjoy reading for creative inspiration and enjoyment, and maybe leaving it on your coffee table to dazzle your art-loving friends. Beads of Glass
Murano Italy is Famous for Its Finely Crafted Venetian Glass Beads, Glass Sculptures, and Other Glass Art
The World's Best Known Source of High Quality Lampwork Glass Beads and Sculptures is Murano, Italy
Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon that lies about 1.5 km north of Venice and measures about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) across. The secrets of old-world craftsmanship are passed down from generation to generation by highly skilled glass bead makers in this area of Italy that is practically synonymous with lampworking.
Murano Developed Its Reputation as a Center for Glassmaking in 1291
The Venetian Republic, afraid that fire would destroy the city's mostly wooden buildings, ordered its glass makers to relocate their foundries to the Murano islands. The Murano glassmakers soon rose to prominence within their community, and by the 14th century they "were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state, and found their daughters married into Venice's most affluent families." The down side was that, because they were so valuable to the Venetian Republic, they were forbidden to leave!
However, Murano glassmakers did enjoy a monopoly on high-quality glassmaking for centuries and developed or refined many glass technologies that, centuries later, still are being employed by glassmakers today. These Murano glassmaking techniques included crystalline glass, smalto (enameled glass), avventurina (glass with threads of gold, known in English as aventurine), millefiori (bright, multicolored glass canes, literally a thousand flowers), lattimo (milk glass), and glass imitation gemstones.
Murano Artisans Still Use These Innovative, Centuries-Old Techniques to Create Contemporary Art Glass, Glass Jewelry, Chandeliers, Wine Stoppers and Glass Sculptures
During our honeymoon my husband and I purchased several beautiful Murano glass wine stoppers and stunning art glass bowls ... and many gorgeous Venetian glass beads, of course.
Source: Wikipedia article on Murano
Murano Magic: A Gorgeous Look at Venetian Glass and Its History
This glorious book would be worth buying just for the 250 fabulous photos! But it's much more than just a coffee table book full of Venetian glass eye candy. It's also a fascinating and painstakingly researched history of Murano, its leading glass making families, their body and legacy of work, and gorgeous contemporary examples of Venetian glass beads from Murano. is a treasure that will appeal to art lovers and art historians alike. Murano Magic
Take a Tour of Venice, Italy to Get a First-Hand Look at Its Famous Lampworked Glass, Beautiful Art and Architecture, and More
The Best Travel Guide to Venice, Italy
Many travelers say if you can bring only one Venice travel guide with you, the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Venice and the Veneto is the one to bring. My husband and I used the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Florence and Tuscany during our honeymoon and I have to agree that it was by far the most useful of the three travel guides we brought along. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Venice and the Veneto covers all the top attractions as well as wonderful places to go and things to do and see that only knowledgeable locals would tell you about otherwise. It recommends themed, self-guided walking tours and guides you through the activities of your choice, from shopping on the Ponte di Rialto to appreciating the fine art at the Gallerie Dell'Accademia. The pull-out city map marked with attractions from the guide, the well designed street index, the transportation maps and a chart that shows the walking distances between attractions make it easy to figure out where you are and how to get where you want to go. There are hundreds of exceptional color photographs, illustrations and custom maps, too, as well as recommended itineraries based on how long you will be visiting, regional destinations and themes.
If You Can't Make It to Venice in Person, Take a Virtual VIP Tour
I loved having Justine Shapiro takes me on an insider's VIP tour of one of the world's most glorious cities via the DVD. Traveling through the romantic canals by gondola, getting a close-up look at the intricate mosaics of the Basilica, experiencing the joy-filled festival celebrating the Annual Rowing Regatta, getting a front row seat at the Venice Film Festival in Lido (and getting a sneak peek at Hollywood stars like Russell Crowe and Oliver Platt), watching elderly artisans make exquisite Venetian lace, and touring this romantic city by night with Casanova is the next best thing to being there in person! It's a once-in-a-lifetime trip you'll never forget. Globe Trekker: Venice City Guide
Take a Virtual Tour of the Glass Museum in Murano
Murano, Italy also is home to the world-famous Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum). Can't travel to Italy just now? Take a virtual tour of Murano's Museo del Vetro glass museum from your computer or digital device.
Learn How to Make Lampworked Glass Beads From the Experts at Delphi Glass
Learn How to Make Dragon Scale Beads - A Very Popular Lampwork Bead Pattern
Learn How to Make a Beautiful Glass Ribbon Cane with Stringer
Corrina Tettinger Quark Bead Tutorial - How to Encase Raised Elements in Lampworked Glass Beads
Amazing Glass Art and Sculpture Installations by World Renowned Master Hot Glass Artist Dale Chihuly
Lampworking (AKA flameworking) is one hot glass technique; glassblowing is another, and one that always has fascinated my husband and me. We are incredibly fortunate to have been able to see the truly magnificent glass art of Dale Chihuly "up close and personal," including his astounding "Fiori di Como" ceiling installation at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, which consists of more than 2,000 mouth-blown glass flowers.
Dale Chihuly "Fiori di Como" Glass Ceiling Installation at The Bellagio in Las Vegas
We've also seen a fabulous exhibit of Chihuly's glass art at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as some of his chandeliers and sculptures at several prestigious galleries specializing in art glass. If you can possibly find an opportunity to view these glorious works of glass art in person, I urge you to run, not walk, to do so! It will be an awe-inspiring experience that you're sure to remember for the rest of your life.
In the meantime, you can view some of the photos of his exhibitions on his site.
Read About and Watch the Fascinating, Complex Development and Installation of Dale Chihuly's Famous "Fiori di Como" Glass Installation at The Bellagio Hotel
Dale Chihuly's breathtaking, 40,000-pound glass art ceiling installation "Fiori di Como" was commissioned for the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. It's one of his most famous glass installations and was groundbreaking in its artistic innovation, weight and structural considerations. "Fiori di Como" comprises 2,000 pieces including an intricate armature of metal "branches" that supports the exquisite glass flowers in a riot of vivid colors. Some of the flowers are as large as platters!
I can say from personal experience that there's nothing quite like seeing Chihuly's "Fiori di Como" Bellagio ceiling installation in person, but is the next best thing. I found this gorgeous 65-page book and DVD set absolutely riveting. The book documents and shows in detail nearly every aspect of the development and complex installation of this extraordinary work of art. It's truly a behind-the-scenes look at the entire process, including reproductions of working faxes and fax drawings from Chihuly to Bellagio owner Steve Wynn during the conceptual phase of development. The 20-minute DVD will astound you as you watch what goes into installing such a massive, intricate and fragile glass installation. Chihuly Bellagio
Chihuly Remains Superb and Prolific Despite Major Physical Challenges
Chihuly is an extraordinary force in the hot glass world, not just as an artist but also as a teacher. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in interior design in 1965 and then earning a Master of Science degree in sculpture two years later, in 1968 he traveled to Venice on a Fulbright Fellowship to study glass and received his MFA from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design later that year. Just three years later, in 1971, he founded the now world-renowned Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State.
In 1976, a horrific head-on collision in England sent him through the windshield of a car, leaving his left eye blind. Even so, after his recovery from the accident he continued to blow glass until 1979, when he dislocated his right shoulder in a bodysurfing accident. For many glass blowers, becoming unable to hold a glass blowing pipe would have ended their careers. But Chihuly hadn't even begun to hit his stride yet. He conceived, designed, and created extremely detailed drawings and "blueprints" of his designs, and then hired a team of superb glass artists to execute those designs under his close supervision and direction. In some ways, not having to do the actual blowing of the glass freed him to focus on the design and structure rather than the execution, and his art took on a whole new level that continues to astound and delight museums, collectors, galleries and art lovers around the globe
Watch Dale Chihuly and His Team in the Complex Ballet that Brings his Glass Installations to Life
Creating each of his huge, complex, fantastical installations requires an incredible amount of communication (verbal and non-verbal), coordination, dedication and determination between the artist and his team to bring his vision into physical form. This two-part video of "Dale Chihuly: GlassMaster" - a 1987 film of the artist working with his team at Harvey Littleton's studio in Spruce Pine, North Carolina - provides a fascinating insight into this tightly-choreographed process.
View 40 Years' Worth of Chihuly's Extraordinary Glass Art Masterpieces in 500+ Incredible Photos
is a gorgeously illustrated photo survey of his career that spans four decades. Through the more than 500 stunning photos, you'll get to know all aspects of Dale Chihuly's work, from his smaller pieces to his enormous outdoor installations. There also are also personal photos, most of them never before published, of Chihuly, his team, his studio in Seattle, Washington and his amazing drawings that guide his team in constructing his complex glass sculptures and installations, accompanied by quotes by and about him. A must for any fan of his work. Chihuly: 365 Days
A Glimpse Into the World of Master Glass Artist Josh Simpson's Planets
As I've mentioned, I have been collecting Josh Simpson's planets for many years. The first photo in this article shows the seven of his magnificent inhabited and possibly inhabited planets I've collected over the years. I've had the great good fortune to have met this world renowned glass artist and to hear him talk about his own work as well as the work of his wife, astronaut Cady Coleman. He gave a lecture with slides at the wonderful Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts and my husband and I were in the front row. Seeing and hearing Josh take us through the long and intricate process of creating each of his glass planets was absolutely fascinating! Reading his gorgeous and informative book is the next best thing to there in person. Josh Simpson: Glass Artist
The stunning photographs that accompany the engaging and informative text make this beautiful enough to be a "coffee table book". I not only own this wonderful book but also have given it as a gift to several people, all of whom have loved it. I recommend it enthusiastically.
© 2012 Margaret Schindel