Glassblowing is a glass forming technique which was invented by the Phoenicians in about 50BCE along the Syro-Palestinian coast. The earliest evidence of glassblowing comes from waste from a glass workshop, including fragments of glass tubes, glass rods and tiny blown bottles, that was dumped in a mikveh (ritual bath) in the Jewish Quarter dated to the time of King Herod, from 37 to 4BCE.
During excavations in the Jewish Quarter by Avigad and Geva in the 1970s they discovered in the eastern wall of the Fresco room (F3) in the Palatial Mansion a niche in which was standing a glass jug by the 1st C artist Ennion of Sidon with his name in Greek on the vessel. This rare piece can be seen as part of the glass collection in the Israel museum’s archaeology wing. The buildings, with mosaic floors and frescoes, have been preserved in the Wohl museum and are worth a visit.
If you are interested in glass-making it is also worth checking out the Glass Pavilion at the Eretz Israel museum in Tel Aviv which exhibits ancient glass vessels, representing 3 chapters in the history of glass production:
- Pre-blown glass
- Blown glass from Roman/Byzantine period (they also have one of Ennion’s works, Blue Jug)
- Blown glass of Islamic period
Currently (January 2011) there is a gold-glass panel (table top) with mosaic-glass tiles found in the Byzantine “Birds Mosaic” mansion in Caesarea on display in Israel for the first time. Both museums collect and exhibit contemporary glass art.
Some of the earliest pieces of blown glass have been discovered in Israel and the tradition of glass blowing developed in this area but since then there has been little activity in glass art. Only in the the mid 1970s with Marvin Lipofsky’s visit to Israel was there an opportuity to try glass making. Lipovsky built the first glass furnace for the Ceramics department at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem, the first courses were taught in the late 70s but a formal department with a full curriculum was established only in 1997. The glass furnace built by Lipofsky over 35 years ago is the same furnace in use today and to date Bezalel remains the only university where students can study glass making in Israel.
In 1962 Dale Chihuly, a 21 year old American, came to Israel and volunteered on Kibbutz Lehav north west of Beersheva in the Negev.
I discovered there was more to life than having a good time,” he has said of his kibbutz service. “It’s difficult to explain how this change came about, but it had a lot to do with going out on border patrol during the night with guys my own age who had more responsibility and maturity than adults twice their age in the States.
Chihuly credits this Israel experience as the turning point in his life. He recalls that he began to think of how he could make a contribution to society. He became dedicated to the hard work and long hours necessary to realize his goals. Conceivably, the collective nature of kibbutz life also inspired him to work with a close-knit group of artisans for a common purpose, the creation of art.
Chihuly’s choice of a millennium project was his famous installation at the Tower of David Museum inside Jaffa Gate in 2000, a project that proved to be “history-making in its ambition, its difficulty and its enormous popular success”. The Light of Jerusalem 2000 installation was composed of 10,000 pieces of individually hand-blown glass weighing a total of 42 tons, the various elements of the work were shipped to Israel in 12 40-foot containers from five different countries. I was one of more than a million people who saw his work.
The installation was the fruit of Chihuly’s relationship to Israel and to the history of blown glass. Chihuly was aware that two thousand years ago, some of the oldest glass in the world had been made in Jerusalem and that just before the birth of Jesus, glassblowing was invented. Israeli artists say that Chihuly’s exhibit was an eye-opening experience and defining moment for them so like Israel affected Chihuly, he affected Israel.
If you’re interested in glass art check out the Litvak Gallery in Tel Aviv near the Gallery of Art for their current exhibition. They have works by Chihuly as well as other contemporary glass artists. There was a special Chihuly exhibit in January 2011.