When silica, soda and lime meet high heat, a beautiful alchemy occurs. The result — a taffy-like substance otherwise known as glass — has inspired creative minds for centuries.
Artists and craftsmen today often combine old-school techniques with new technology to create one-of-a-kind works of arts for the home.
Internationally known sculptor Dale Chihuly, based in Tacoma, Wash., has drawn crowds to a variety of public spaces with his outdoor "glass garden" installations of imaginative, other-worldly creations. (www.chihuly.com ) You can find some of his smaller pieces — glass baskets, wall art and table sculptures — at www.artnet.com .
In her Detroit studio, Nina Cambron fuses opaque, translucent and iridescent glass into wall panels resembling totems. The enduring quality of glass as an artistic medium is what drew her to it, she says.
"It's just so rich, smooth, shiny and permanent," she says. "Unlike painting or drawing, you can't erase and rework an area. After it's fired, you're done." (www.ninacambron.com )
Gale Scott, a glass artist based in Worcester, Mass., uses a technique called "electroforming" that involves blowing glass into copper forms. The hot, soft glass meets the rigid metal and billows into ethereal shapes. (www.galescott.com )
New Yorker Peter Byrum displayed his paintings on glass at May's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in Manhattan. Using acrylics, he paints natural elements like leaf fronds and coral on layered sheets of tempered glass, sometimes half a dozen or more. The effect is three-dimensional, an organic, ephemeral diorama. (www.peterbynum.com )
Thor and Jennifer Bueno of Spruce Pine, N.C., are inspired by nature, and form hot glass into shapes evoking water-washed rocks or molecular structures.
"Walking along a river, light bounces across the water's surface," says Jennifer Bueno.
Each sculpture is made by blowing and shaping molten glass into "pebbles." The colors come from adding glass shards or powders. The piece is then baked to hardness, sandblasted and given a protective luster; the result looks remarkably like a rock scoured by the action of a swift current over time.
In another series, the pebble shapes are made out of the mirrored material known as mercury glass.
"In its liquid state, glass glows with intense heat and moves slowly, as if self-propelled," notes Bueno. "Mercury glass has the appearance of liquid metal, undulating and three-dimensional."
The finished glass resembles electrons, particles, even sound waves. (www.buenoglass.com )
At Wayfair.com, you'll find photographs printed on the back of glass panels from Platin Art. Bamboo stems, flowers, and black and white city skylines seem to float, making for arresting wall art, particularly for large expanses of wall space. (www.wayfair.com )
At LaylaGrayce.com, the Worlds Away Marina Ice Glass collection of furniture has a Hollywood Regency vibe, cool and elegant. Nightstands, chests and other pieces are clad in a milky, translucent glass. (www.laylagrayce.com )
You can also learn more about the history, art and science of glass at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y. Try your hand at glassmaking in one of the museum's many classes. (www.cmog.org )