March 1, 2007

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Looking at glass
By Jeff Rapsis

This week’s cover story in Hippo is about local artists who work in a versatile and often colorful medium — glass.

Check it out. The pieces they produce are beguiling and often quite beautiful. The pictures we have are good, but they’re no substitute for seeking out this kind of art and seeing it person.

Glass art seems especially amazing to me because I have no talent whatsoever for creating anything like it. My closest personal experience to glass is several broken windows for which I’ve been responsible over the years.

To me, what’s striking about glass art is that it seems to get little respect from the traditional fine art world. Walk into any museum in the world, and you’ll find rooms full of oil paintings and courtyards fill of stone sculpture, but relatively little glass.

I can think of one local exception — up at the Currier Museum in Manchester, they have a fantastic collection of eye-poppingly beautiful glass paperweights.

Each one of them forms a miniature glass-encased world of colors and shapes, a perfect little object, ostensibly a paperweight but in reality without any function at all, created just for the sake of creation.

The museum is undergoing renovations right now, but I hope they’ll still have a place for the paperweights to be displayed.

Maybe the lack of glass in big museums is for a more prosaic reason — because it breaks. Or, more seriously, I think the kind of glass that we all take for granted (clear, easy to see through, a material that can be worked by an artist) hasn’t been around really for all that very long.

The ancients figured out how to make glass, but it wasn’t an easy process and glass was considered quite a luxury item, from what I understand.

And yes, in medieval times, magnificent stained glass windows were installed in the era’s huge cathedrals, often with vivid imagery to help reinforce scripture’s lessons and stories to an illiterate populace.

But modern glass (the perfectly clear kind in today’s windows) didn’t happen until the 19th century, when British inventors discovered a way to mass-produce glass of acceptable quality on an industrial scale.

Even then, glass was apparently tricky. In the now-demolished Spring Street Junior High School in downtown Nashua, we could look out the huge multi-pane classroom windows and tell which panes were original to the building.

Unlike newer replacement panes, the older ones were not clear, but had ripples and sometimes tiny bubbles in them. The school was built in 1918, so as late as then it must have been difficult to produce glass like we see today all over the place.

Today, local artists are using the all this accumulated knowledge to produce new beauty all the time, even right here in southern New Hampshire.

So enjoy, but watch those elbows, will you?