My First Glassmaking Experience In Novy Bor

It started with a question, and I never expected the answer to turn out like it did. Last week’s amazing visit to the Ajeto Glassworks in Novy Bor, Czech Republic, brought me into contact with a vibrant, charming and talented young Australian glassmaker called Jasper Dowding (above). Even though it seemed to pass in minutes, we spoke for hours, enthusing about Czech glass and contemporary glass design. Highly knowledgeable, Jasper is already accepted internationally as a skilled glassmaker and designer with great potential. His fine studio work is stocked by top tier galleries such as Vessel in London, and a selection was displayed at the Saatchi Gallery’s stand at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘Collect’ event.
I’ve always admired the early studio works of the influential designer Rene Roubicek – particularly the one shown here in an original photograph I own. I have always presumed that the applied, yet integral, bubbles required great skill to make, so I asked Jasper what the secret was. Rather than explain, he suggested we go to the furnace so I could find out for myself. And he really meant ‘find out for myself‘, as I soon found myself turning a blowing iron loaded with red hot molten glass.
I had never actually done this before, so the experience was nothing less than magical for me. It took quite some effort to stem the broad grin from growing across my face so that I could keep my lips firmly wrapped around the mouthpiece of the blowing iron, and my eyes on the rapidly expanding glass bubble. And then there was the constant and consistent turning of the rod to stop the treacle-like mass from following Newton’s law and ending up on the floor. “It’s all about physics” Jasper kept reminding me.
And the secret is that there is no secret – it’s actually quiet simple, even though I suspect this simplicity belies his experience as a glassmaker. Blow a bubble and let it cool just a little, then drip a freshly gathered gather of glass onto the surface of the original bubble and blow gently again. The heat of the new gather pierces the original bubble and your breath expands the new, still molten, gather into a second attached bubble. And so on. Easy! Or maybe not. I lost concentration, and my first attempt dripped down and away and ended up in the glassmaker’s wheelbarrow. My second was quickly spirited off, presumably destined for the same.
Imagine my delight when, later in the evening, Jasper returned from the lehr and presented me with the piece I had blown earlier. You can see it below, still mounted on the blowing iron. Okay, I know it isn’t pretty, and it certainly isn’t art. But it’s the first piece of glass that I’ve ever blown myself and I’m delighted. I learnt a lot too. Thank you, Jasper!
And if you fancy giving glassblowing a go yourself, the Ajeto Glassworks is in the centre of the historic glassmaking town of Novy Bor, a 2 hour drive through beautiful countryside from Prague. A short course with experienced glassblower Petr Novotny costs 120 euros, and you can take the piece of glass you make home with you too. Click here to find out more, and see if you can do better than me!

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