Principles of Design in Glass by Christopher Dresser

Saturday, 31 August 2002 10:09 AM BST

Contributed by: Jerry Green

Principles of Design. - XXIV.By Christopher Dresser, PH.D., F.L.S., ETC. - Glass - from Cassell's Technical Educator.When speaking of earthenware, I insisted upon the desirability of using every material in the easiest and most natural manner, and I illustrated my meaning by saying that glass had a molten condition as well as a solid state, and that while in the molten condition it can be "blown" into forms of exquisite beauty. Glass-blowing is an operation of skill, and an operation in which natural laws come to our aid, and I cannot too strongly repeat my statement that every material should be "worked" in the most simple and befitting manner; and I think that our consideration of the formation of glass vessels will render the reasonableness of my demand apparent.

Let a portion of molten glass be gathered upon the end of a metal pipe, and blown into a bubble while the pipe droops vertically from the mouth of the operator, and a flask is formed such as is used for the conveyance of olive oil (Fig. 92); and what vessel could be more beautiful than such a flask? Its grace of form is obvious; the delicate curvature of its sides, the gentle swelling of the bulb, and the beautifully rounded base, all manifest beauty.

Here we get a vessel formed for us almost wholly by nature. It is the attraction of gravitation which converts what would be a mere bubble, or hollow sphere of glass, into a gracefully elongated and delicately-shaped flask. This may be taken as a principle, that whenever a material is capable of being "worked" in a manner which will so secure the operation of natural lawsas to modify the shapes of the objects into which it is formed, it is very desireable that we avail ourselves of such a means of formation, for the operation of the laws of gravitation and similar forces upon plastic matter is calculated to give beauty of form.

When clay is worked upon the potter's wheel, it is shaped by the operator's skill, and is sufficiently stiff to retain the shape given to it to a very considerable extent, yet the operation of gravitation upon it, so long as it has any plasticity whatever, is calculated to secure delicacy of form. This rule should ever be remembered by the art student - that a curve is beautiful just as its origin is difficult to detect (see Vol. I., page 279). In the formation of vases, bottles, etc., knowledge of this law is very important, and the operation of gravity upon hollow plastic vessels is calculated to give to their curves subtlety (intricate beauty) of character. Having arranged that the material shall be worked in the manner most befitting its nature, we must next consider what purpose the object to be formed is intended to serve.

Take a common hock-bottle (Fig. 93) and consider it. What is wanted is a vessel such as will stand, in which wine can be stored. It must have a strong neck, so that a cork may be driven in without splitting it, and must be formed of a material that is not absorbent. Glass, as a material, admirably answers the want, and this bottle is capable of storing wine; it will stand, and has a rim round the neck such as gives to it strength. But, besides serving the requirements named, it is both easily formed and is beautiful. The designer must be a utilitarian, but he must be an artist also. We must have useful vesels, but the objects with which we are to surround ourselves must likewise be beautiful; and unless they are beautiful, our delicacy of feeling and power to appreciate nature, which is full of beauty will be impaired. A hock-bottle is a mere elongated bubble, with the bottom portion pressed in so it may stand, and the neck thickened by a rim of glass being placed around it. Here we have a bottle shaped by natural agency; it is formed of heavy glass, and the bubble was thick at its lower part, hence its elongated form; but if length is required in any bubble, and the glass is even light, it can always be given by swinging the bubble round from the centre, so that centrifugal force may be brought into play in the direction of its length; or if it has to be widened, this can easily be doneby giving to it a rotary motion, whereby the centrifugal force is caused to act from the axis of the vessel outwards, and not from the apex to the base, as in the former instance. In either case a certain amount of beauty would appear in the shape produced, for nature here works for us. Our wine-bottles are moulded, hene their ugliness. We work without Nature's assistance, and we reap ugliness as the reward. Let us now consider what a decanter should be. In many respects, the wants which a decanter is intended to meet are similar to those which are met by a bottle, as just enumerated, but there is a great difference - a bottle is only intended to be filled once, whereas a decanter is intended to be filled many times; and a bottle is made so that it can travel, while a decanter is not intended to be the subject of long journeys. It is true that a bottle may be re-filled many times, but it is not intended that it should, as the fact that we use a funnel when we wish to fill it clearly shows, and without a funnel the vessel is not complete. All objects when intended to be re-filled nany times should have a funnel-shaped mouth (see my remarks on the Greek water-vessel, Vol II., page 376), but if a bottle had a distended orifice it would not be well adapted for transport. A decanter should have capacity for containing liquid; it should stand securely, and should have a double funnel - a funnel to collect it and conduct it into the bottle, and a funnel to collect it and conduct it out of the bottle. It must also be convenient to use and hold, and the upper funnel should be of such a character that it will guide the liquid in a proper direction when poured from the decanter.

If we take a flask and flatten its base, and extend the upper portion of the neck slightly in the form of a funnel, we have all that is required of a decanter, with the exception of a permanent cork, which is a stopper (Fig 94).

But as most decanters are intended to hold wine, the brilliancy of which is not readily apparent when that portion of the vessel which contains the liquid rests immediately upon the table, it is desirable to give to the vessel a foot or, in other words, raise the body of the decanter so that light may surround it as fully as possible (Figs 95 & 96).

In Figs 97 to 108 (Respecting the application of handles to vessels I will speak when noticing silversmiths' work) I give a number of shapes of decanters and jugs, such as may be seen in our best shop-windows, and such as I consider desirable forms for such vessels; and in considering the shape of such vessels, the character of the upper portion of the neck must be regarded, as well as that of the body and base.

Besides decanters and bottles, glass is formed into tumblers, wine-glasses, flower-holders, and many other things; but the principles which we have already laid down will apply equally to all, for if the objects formed result from the easiest mode of working the material, and are such as perfectly answer the end proposed by their formation, and are beautiful, nothing more can be expected of them.

Many objects of fancy shape have been produced as mere feats of glass-blowing, and with some of the efforts I sympathise. Wherever the work produced is truly adapted to use, or where an artistic effect is achieved, the glass-blower has my warm sympathy, but if the effort is made at the production of novelty merely, the result gained is sure to be unsatisfactory. Much of the Venetian-glass will illustrate these last remarks.

Fig 109 is a very excellent and picturesque spirit bottle; it is easy to hold, and quaint in appearance. (In order that the nature of this bottle be better understood, I give a section of it at A.) Figs 110, 111 and 112 are Venetion glass vessels, wrought entirely at the furnace mouth, and neither cut nor engraved - they are artistic and of interesting appearance; while Fig 113 is a work of Roman glass, in which the upper distension is useful if the liquid contains a sediment which it is not desirable to pour out with the liquid.

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