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Cameo Etched Glass

Learn about one artist's unique style of glass work.

John Barber has always been fascinated with the art and the history of glass. He discovered a technique that began in the 3rd century with the Chinese Peking dynasty. Years of trial and error have lead Barber to his own version of the delicate art of cameo-etched glass work. This involves blowing a glass vessel and then using sandblasting and rubber resist to create a design in layers. They are subtle and beautiful pieces that are very different from any standard glass work.

Barber begins by blowing the basic shape of the vessel. To do this he gathers clear glass on his rod and begins heating and blowing it into shape. As the shape develops, it is rolled in colored glass powder called frit. The molten piece is then reheated to melt the frit onto the ball. Several different colors of frit are added in layers. The shape continues to be worked on until it feels right to him. His design for the vessel shape emerges as he works. An apprentice then helps Barber cut the vessel off of the blowing rod and place it in the annealing box for cooling and hardening overnight.

Once the piece has cooled, it’s ready for the cameo design. Barber sketches a plan for his design and then paints the first layer of rubber resist directly onto the vessel. This first layer will become the highest elevation and darkest color of the image. The vessel is then sandblasted, removing a layer of glass and revealing a new color everywhere the resist is not. Another layer of resist is then painted on, adding more design elements, and the sandblasting process is repeated. As many as three layers of resist will be used to create an image that is raised on the outside of the vessel, like a cameo.

Barber’s technique is rooted in history and highly unique in contemporary glass artistry. The layers of color that are revealed through the etching are wonderfully subtle, yet the finished pieces are intriguing, eye-catching, and beautiful.

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