Sorber talks about glassmaking

By Page H. Gifford  

Glass is one of those mediums that when manipulated into forms and shapes, the glass itself features a spectrum of colors and iridescence that is unmatched by any other art medium.  One is reminded of the breathtaking works by glass master and artistic genius, Dale Chihuly. Those that follow the path of glass blowing and artistry and create beautiful works themselves still look to other fellow glass artists with awe.

Local artist Carol Sue Sorber understands the concepts of artistic glassmaking and embraces it with passion, imagination, and knowledge. Glassmaking, unlike other art forms, requires meticulous attention and caution. Sorber calls her work “tabletop glass blowing,” as opposed to “free” or “mold-blowing” glass, which has been used from the 1st century B.C. to the 19th century.

“Working with glass is both scientific and artistic. Burner technology has evolved significantly over the last 50 years. New and improved burners, affectionately known as torches have made it easier to establish a home studio,” said Sorber. She said that the makers of bench burners are manufacturing safer and more precise equipment. “The number of manufacturers in the market and the variety of burners available keep prices reasonable, so every flame worker can find the torch that works best for them.”

Glass is the other most important component. Re-purposing old glass is possible, but Sorber said there is a whole science to glass-making. Understanding various glass and its properties leads to a successful outcome. For example, she said she uses Italian art glass to create her miniature sculptures like her goddesses and Pyrex for cremains.

“Makers of glass rods, frit (mixture of silica and fluxes), and powders put out new colors almost daily. The colors and reactions you get from Double Helix glass, for example, (a Charlottesville manufacturer) are astonishingly beautiful and the glass is buttery soft to work with.” 

She said resellers do a great job of shipping glass to artists quickly and without breakage, which she adds can be challenging. “All of that means the artist can get the tools and materials she needs, when she needs them, without impeding inspiration or production. That has not always been the case.”

“On the artistic side, what began more than 2000 years ago in Egypt continues to inspire and engage people of all ages. Young glass artists today are breaking ground that will be expanded upon by the next generation of glass artists. Access to skill development is expanding, too,” she said, adding that colleges and universities like VCU offer BFA and MFA programs taught by master artists so that techniques passed down from generation to generation continue to evolve as new artists stretch craft and glass to their limits. And art glass is accessible to the novice and hobbyist as well. Small educational venues like The Lorton Workhouse [] provide a location to learn and practice in a safe, collegial, and inspirational atmosphere, catering to working artists and hobbyists alike. Though Sorber didn’t discover her passion for glass until later in life, she took advantage of learning at smaller art schools and eventually taught at Lorton.

Sorber’s journey in art began in Arizona, when she went with a friend to visit a woman whose entire house was filled with glass beads. This inspired her to learn more about small-scale glassmaking.

“I was hooked.” She makes everything from beads to marbles but her favorite items are her small sculptures, including birds, turtles, and other animals and figures. Her work is smooth and flawless.

“Children who see my work often react with wide-eyed and open-mouthed awe. Exclamations like, “Wow! Mom, look, this is so cool!” are often followed by “No, no no, don’t touch!” I just smile and tell the kids that it’s okay to touch, just be extra careful. Then I hand them a marble or a top to spin on the floor,” she said. “Children are curious – I was when I first saw my sister-in-law making glass fish at Disneyland – so I want to encourage their curious spirit. Glass breaks, that’s a fact, and whatever it is, I can make another.”

For every artist, there is a trip they have to make to see the work of masters. Sorber said her bucket list wish is to travel to Morano Calabro, Italy, and see Venetian glass-making. One of the many historical places that are the heart and soul of glassmaking.

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