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If These Walls Could Talk

Decorating with Glass

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04/01/2011 - While traveling through Alaska working as a photographer, I enjoyed spending my off hours beachcombing. The beaches there were covered with rock rather than sand. Seashells never landed intact. What I searched for was beach glass. Broken bits of glass were tossed about by the waves until they landed as smooth and polished pebbles on the shore. Green, brown, and clear were common. Aqua was less so, and the rare bits of cobalt or ruby were a prize. Occasionally a piece of patterned china could be found. Once there was a tiny china doll leg. Each piece of glass I gathered seemed like a jewel.

Glass is so common and disposable in modern society that it is difficult to imagine how highly valued it was when first discovered. Archaeologists have estimated the most ancient glass artifacts to be about 3,000 years old and to have come from Egypt. Early glass came in the form of jewelry or small statues and was owned by the wealthy and noble. To the common people it was glamorous and unattainable. It was valuable enough that small glass beads were used as trade currencies and tax payments. The secrets of glassmaking were strictly guarded. Some of the early glassmakers were cloistered on an island where their movements were restricted in an attempt to control their art. A few slipped away, but glassmaking remained shrouded in mystery.

The glass arts traveled via captive Egyptian glassmakers to Rome, and finally after a thousand years of glassmaking, the first blown-glass hollow vessels were formed. By the time Christian missionaries emigrated from Constantinople to establish monasteries in Europe, glassmaking, glass mosaics, and stained glass were some of their important arts. Gothic architecture incorporated this art into their cathedrals. Now, common as a coke bottle or fine as cut crystal, glass is everywhere. Calloused as we are by its familiarity, we take much of the decorative value of glass for granted.

Glass adds radiance and light to a room by its sparkle and reflective qualities. It magnifies both space and light. Mirrored glass can even appear to change the proportions of a room. Large immobile pieces of glass in windows, screens and fixtures can be stationed to best compliment natural and artificial light sources. Smaller glass ornaments and vessels add variety by their changeability. Glass beades swinging in a doorway, crystal prisms hanging from a chandelier, a vase catching sunlight on a window sill--- each of these decorative touches add movement and light patterns to a room.

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