Art of Glass; Glass Blowing Is an Ancient Art Form Steeped in Tradition, a Craft Very Much Alive and Well in Stourbridge. Caroline Foulkes Reports
Byline: Caroline Foulkes
Helen Millard's breath creates works of art.
A single blow can produce a delicate artefact, something to be treasured.
It can also help to keep an ancient craft alive.
Helen is a glass blower. Many of the tools she works with have passed through the hands of fine craftsmen, shaped and smoothed by the hands of their old masters.
Others are newer but their shape and style remains resolutely unchanged from the ones used hundreds of years ago.
One thing that has changed, though, is the amount of breath used to produce the glass.
'It's a fallacy that you need big lungs to blow glass,' she says, dipping one of the irons, a 4ft metal straw into the 1060C furnace.
'The heat of the glass makes it expand, so as long as you have the glass at a constant high temperature, it's easy to blow.
'It was only the old glass blowers who worked in factories, blowing glass into moulds, that ended up with really big cheeks.'
She draws the iron out, a thick, honey coloured blob of glass hanging stickly on the end.
Twirling the iron through her hands, she explains that you start off by 'gathering' the glass, getting it on to the iron.
'It's quite difficult to master, getting enough glass on to the iron to start blowing.
'Then you learn how to keep it on centre, by turning the iron.
'The most important thing is to keep the glass at a hot, constant temperature by dipping it into the glory hole,' she says, dipping the iron into a round, fiery hole which blazes away at 1100C.
'If you don't and the glass gets too cold, it can crack.
'It's all about timing and heat.' Helen, who is originally from Sussex, became interested in glass blowing while on a visit to Canada.
'I did a two-year art foundation course and was going to go into illustrating. …