Liam Reeves Shares Venetian Mastery

liam-reeves-venetian-glass-techniques-class-(10)Liam Reeves – Venetian Techniques. Saturday 18 – Sunday 19 April 2015

We had students from Scotland, Switzerland, Dorset and America adding an international flavour to our Venetian glass class with Liam Reeves.  After a Brief welcome, Liam began with a short history about Venetian glass, and the influences this particular style has had on historical and contemporary glass.

A bit of history…

After the demise of the Roman Empire, most of Europe was still mired in the dark ages, but Venice building her success through military power, soon became a stronghold in trade by sea. An area of limited land mass, Venice was rich in the raw materials needed for glass and centuries of glass knowledge, supposedly descended from Roman glassmakers in Aquileia.  There is evidence of Venetian glass dating back to the ninth century.

By the end of the 13th century, Venice had become the most popular and crowded glassmaking centre of Europe. Glassmakers formed a commuity on the island of Murano, and in 1291 this voluntary emigration became compulsory, ostensibly to contain their fires safely and quite probably to contain their secrets of glassmaking, and safeguard their unique and therefore lucrative techniques. Known as the glassmakers’ “guilded cage”, their families and skills were also imprisoned, often killed on attempt to escape. Nevertheless, several determined mutinous escapees succeeded in spreading Venetian glass skills throughout Europe.

The artistic and technical perfection of the Venetian masters has been recognised for centuries.  This delicate, ornate and fast-paced glassmaking style, still known today as Venetian glassmaking, is influential today in American colleges, and hopefully soon more so in our British ones.  Liam and other visiting masters are an essential influence upon British glass students; let’s hope colleges continue to invite them to share their expertise.

When Dale Chihuly met Venetian glass master Lino Tagliapietra in Murano in 1968, there began a contemporary international exchange of Venetian skills. In 1979 and 1980, Lino taught at the Pilchuck Glass School as part of this ongoing cultural exchange between the Italian maestri and American glassmakers, bravely challenging the secrecy of their skills.

Here in Britain, we have been slightly less influenced, but that is changing now slowly thanks to the skills brought to us by visiting artists like Bill Gudenwrath.  Glass centres like the fabulous Northlands has been introducing masters such as Dante Marioni and Janusz Pozniac to the UK like them for over a decade and this year they will be welcomed again.  at the International Festival of Glass.

Liam Reeves and a few others are now sharing Venetian skills, broadening our British glass vocabulary. Like many great artistic talents, Liam enjoys making copies of classical Venetian glass but also produces works in his own style.


Back to the class in hand….

Saturday. Liam began by demonstrating a simple blown cup, merrise, knop stem and blown foot, then everyone warmed up on the bench blowing a tumbler, and allowing Liam to assess their bench skills.  The simple step of adding a merrise to a cup was practiced, and soon, glass making was quickly becoming faster, thinner and more delicate that the normal Hub glassware.

Soon it was time to practice avolios – larger than the flat disc merrise, and necked into an hour glass shape.  Casting on from the side, a whole new thing to some, but with Liam’s great ability to explain details in bite size pieces, soon everyone got it.  One more self-assisted demo of a three part glass, then students were on their own to finish off the day, everyone attempting a three or two-part goblet. Finished articles were not filling up the lehr, but practice makes perfect, and just repeating new processes is the way to learn. Then it was off to the pub for a well-earned drink and dinner.

Sunday began with a warm up, then a demo of the optic and a five-balled stem goblet. Using the optic is a skill, watching the way he twists and pulls and knocks this into shape with his octopus style of self-assisting,  using a blowing tube, that allows him to inflate the glass, while having the jacks on the piece too. If any of you have tried this, you will agree that it’s not an easy skill, and getting tangled up in rubber hose does not improve bench performance! A beautiful goblet in the lehr, students then spent till lunch time practicing. There was a fair amount of rib mould blowing, but then everyone realised this was too much, on top of trying to master the basics, and so continued with clear.


Upping the game, Liam finished his demos with a finale of a dragon stem goblet. Making an optic twist bowl, Liam adds blows an optic Knop stem and foot with turned in rim.  This is again knocked off, then he proceeds to dip a gather into rib mould, pull it long, curl it up, punty it, curl neck and head around, then I bring bits to add as decoration to finish dragon effect. This is again put into kiln, Liam reminding me which way to offer it up, when he goes to glue it on.

Then the assembly. So, the Bowl is blown into the rib mould, an avoliglio added, then puntied and opened. Liam then makes very carefully punties the bowl on the inside, the glass is now hanging on this one small connection. After a flash, he adds a bit to the avoliglio while I bring the dragon over, and with hot tweezers he attaches and flashes, straightening up and then adds another bit on the end of the dragon.  I bring the foot and Knop stem over, and Liam finishes this beautiful glass, with a final few twists around this last hot fresh bit!

What a demo.  What a weekend!

What can we say but a big thanks you Liam!  for sharing and inspiring.  If you ever have the opportunity to watch a demo or go on a class with Liam Reeves …seize the opportunity.  What a brilliant maker, and an excellent and patient tutor.

View some photos from the day!


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