Fire, Sand and Skill

Leonard Lea Frazer

During a traditional Norwegian morning smorgasbord the conversation between myself and an American couple drifted to “how friendly and trusting Scandinavian people are.”

The Americans were shocked that, at a Swedish open-air museum they had recently visited, a collection of early woodcarving tools had been left out on display. “In New York,” they explained, “those tools would be ripped off in five minutes.” I reported how I had been wait-ing for a bus in a Norwegian town. A delivery truck dropped off two stereos, still in their factory boxes, at the side entrance to an electronics store. The boxes sat untouched on the sidewalk for three hours. “They would not have lasted too long in Canada,” I admitted. The American lady had another example of Scandinavian trust: “When we were in Kalmar we went to a local guest house. At the front desk there was a sign in English that read, ‘Just help yourself to a key and find your room. We’ll be back in the morning to make breakfast and collect.’  We stayed there, and, sure enough, the owner and his wife arrived the next morn-ing and prepared breakfast. We were amazed!”

I experienced a similar bout with hospitality when I toured a glass-blowing facility in the heart of Sweden’s Smaland District. A team of five or six men were in the process of making tall-stemmed wine glasses. They moved about the room, transporting, rolling and shaping molten glass on the ends of blowpipes, as if characters in a ballet. They were indeed polite and agile dancers.

The process of making glass begins with the “batch.” Washed silica sand is melted together with soda, potash, saltpetre, antimony, arsenic and red lead. This mixture is transformed into small pellets and thus becomes the batch. Raw materials for Swedish glass are imported from Germany, Belgium, France, England and the U.S. At the end of a working day at the average glassworks, the temperature in the furnaces are raised from 1130C to 1430C and the batch is shovelled in. Ten to 12 hours is required to melt the batch entirely.

The next morning workers, known as “gatherers,” dip into the molten glass contained in each furnace crucible with their long glass-blowing pipes, starting a chain of steps that are required in making glassware. Working together as a team, two gatherers, a master glassblower, two regular glassblowers and a foot-maker can make up to 900 wine glasses during one working day.

The oldest glassworks still in operation in Sweden, at Kosta, was founded in 1742 with the first smelting-house producing glass the following year. Due to the abundance of wood in the Smaland area many glass factories were established. Gas-fuelled furnaces, in use today, have replaced the original ones. Towns built up around the glassworks and adopted the same names.

Today there are no less that 16 glassworks in Sweden’s “Kingdom of Crystal.” Between Kalmar by the Baltic Sea and Vaxio, in the interior, names like Boda, Orrefors, Nyrro, Sandvik and Rosdala stand for quality, hand-crafted Swedish glassware.

At the end of the 19th century the first artist was employed at Kosta and at this time French techniques were introduced. Between 1920 and 1950 two artists at the Orrefors glassworks developed a style of having coloured patterns in glassware appear within a clear outer glass layer. In 1953 a 21-year-old sculpture, named Eric Hoglund, was given four years in which to experiment with glass design at the Boda glassworks. That was the beginning of Sweden’s success in the glassware indus-try.

Artistic designers are now employed at all Swedish glassblowing halls, working side by side with the master craftsmen. The success in Sweden comes from the designers’ ability to exploit the amazing artistic possibilities of Fire, Sand and Skill. The trusting and hospitable attitude of the Swedes comes naturally.

 

Kosta Boda “Felicia” wine glasses. Each handmade glass looks identical, but is different, and has its own distinct bell tone sound.
Kosta Boda “Felicia” wine glasses. Each handmade glass looks identical, but is different, and has its own distinct bell tone sound.
  
 right: The “Glory Hole” with blow pipes heating up.
right: The “Glory Hole” with blow pipes heating up.
 

 

A master craftsman shaping a glass vase.
A master craftsman shaping a glass vase.
  
Using a traditional wooden cup to shape molten glass.
Using a traditional wooden cup to shape molten glass.
 

 Glass bottle with an artistic touch.
Glass bottle with an artistic touch.