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Dudley Giberson: Art, Science, Technology, Alchemy


You could say that Dudley Giberson is a glass artist, but you'd be minimizing the true scope of his talents and interests. A fellow artist calls him "one of a dozen key figures in the studio glass movement." He's an artist, to be sure. But he's also done groundbreaking historical research, rediscovering the techniques of ancient glass artists. And he's invented much of the equipment used in modern glass studios. 


Giberson's first major invention was his most important -- and lucrative. In 1968, he patented a new kind of burner head. As he tells it, necessity was the mother of this invention: "I was using my first furnace. I had a metal burner in there. Glass furnaces heat up to about 2500 degrees sometimes, and metal melts around 2350. These burners started disintegrating and making a mess! I came up with a ceramic burner that is impervious -- not totally impervious to heat, but you can't really melt it. I have a burner that I've been using for almost thirty years, and that's unheard-of with a metal one."  


His burner is still used in the vast majority of glass studios. Over the years, he has invented an entire line of studio gear: kilns, burners, heating elements, annealers. In fact, it's not unreasonable to argue that Giberson's gear has provided a foundation for the studio-art movement. His equipment is practical; it stands up to extreme conditions; and it's designed by an artist to serve the needs of an artist. 


Although he sells his own line of studio equipment, Giberson encourages other artists to roll their own: "Absolutely. They need to learn how to weld, how to manage iron, to be a toolmaker of sorts, and they need some rudimentary design skills."  His book, The Glassblower's Companion, is full of information about building a glass studio; and he has always been generous with advice for any artist who needs help with the process. 


The inventions have given Giberson the freedom to follow his muse, and that has been something of a loss to the art world. In recent years, as he has pursued his inquiries into ancient techniques, he has produced very little new work. 


It might seem odd that an artist would turn away from his own art, and dedicate himself to rediscovering techniques that are thousands of years old. But to him, that was literally a Golden Age for glass. "Over time, glass has had such a wide range of value," he explains. "In ancient times, it was worth its weight in gold. Today, it's hardly worth anything; we throw it away." Through his research, he is connecting to a time when glass was purely a creative medium, not an industrial product.

Read the rest of Giberson's story in my book, including his childhood in a city known for industrial glass, and how he bought his first and only house for $8,000. 
Read an excerpt from our interviews, in which he talks about how he became a glass artist, and why he is so interested in rediscovering ancient techniques. 
Listen to my 2005 interview with Giberson at New Hampshire Public Radio.  
Visit Giberson's website for information on his book, video, and studio equipment. 

Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com.