Ancient Glass Brochure

A Passion for the Past

Dick Brockway (’57) always wanted to be an archaeologist, but when he came to Willamette in the early 1950s, he pursued a degree in science instead. Dick had always been good at math and science and had been convinced by his high school teachers that the country needed good engineers. Willamette didn’t offer an engineering degree, so after 3 years in Oregon and a B.A. degree from Willamette, he transferred to Stanford University in California, where he earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering.

Still, the lure of history and archaeology never left him, and in the early 1960s, he and his friend and college classmate Jim Mercer (’57) spent 6 months traveling around Europe, where they visited every museum and cathedral they could find. When their money ran out, Dick returned to California to work as an
engineer for GTE.

During the 1960s and 70s, Dick’s work as an engineer took him to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He served as a project engineer for GTE in Italy, Iran, Japan, Alaska, and England, where he was able to fuel his growing passion for ancient art. In addition, he earned a certificate from the Harvard Business School
in management to add to his already impressive list of academic credentials. It was while he was on assignment overseas that he began to assemble his marvelous collection of antiquities, which includes ceramics, sculpture, mosaics, coins, glass, and lamps from Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, China, and Japan. His ancient glass collection, in particular, is one of the finest private collections of its kind in the country.

In the early 1990s, after nearly 30 years with GTE, Dick negotiated an early retirement so that he could devote his time to ancient art. He moved from Massachusetts to Florida and started an antiquities business, Ancient Art international, which he operates from an office in his home. In the late 1990s he returned to Willamette and toured the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, where he was deeply impressed with its collections, exhibitions, and facility. In 2000, Dick made his first gift of artwork to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, a number of pieces of South Italian pottery. Over the next few years, he donated two Gnathian skyphoi to the permanent collection and in 2006, a Roman glass pitcher dated to the 1st to 3rd century CE. These pieces have added immeasurably to our small, but growing collection of ancient art. Although Dick Brockway never became an archaeologist, he has spent nearly 45 years pursuing his passion for history and archaeology, and through his ongoing gifts to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, will clearly inspire future generations of students to pursue their passion for the past.

Some Glassmaking Terms and Techniques

Applied dots
A decorative technique made by
applying chips of colored glass to the
surface of a vessel.

A hollow tube usually made of metal
and used to blow glass.

A thick thread of glass applied to a
vessel as a handle, a base, or as a

Core-formed glass
A vessel made by trailing molten glass
around a core of clay, mud, sand, or
organic material made in the shape of
the desired vessel.

A glazed, non-clay ceramic substance
used for amulets, jewelry, and small
sculptures in ancient Egypt.

Free-blown glass
A vessel made by blowing air through
a blowpipe into the center of a gob.

The closed, horizontal heating cham-
ber into which the glassblower enters
the blowpipe and heats the glass.

A material made by melting together
sand, soda, and lime at temperatures
of at least 1150 degrees Fahrenheit to
transform the raw material into a
molten state.

A mass of molten glass picked up on
the end of a blowpipe.

A solid iron rod with a rounded or
pointed tip used to support molten
glass as it is formed into a bead.

A smooth, flat surface, on which the
glassworker rolls the glass to shape,
decorate and cool it.

Mold-blown glass
A vessel formed by being blown into a
shape or mold, not free-formed.

Mold-cast glass
A vessel or object made by pouring
molten glass into a mold.

Pattern-blown glass
A vessel formed by being blown into
a mold that imparts only a surface

A glassworker’s tool used for decorat-
ing objects by pinching the glass while
it is still hot.

Pontil rod
A solid iron rod used to hold the
molten glass while it is shaped and

Rod-formed glass
An object fashioned on the end of a

A strand of glass applied to the surface
of a vessel as a rim, handle, or base,
and often as surface decoration

There is a story that once a ship belonging to traders in natural soda put in here (at the mouth of the Belus River, which flows from Mt. Carmel to the Mediterranean Sea near the ancient border between Phoenicia and Judea) and that they scattered along the shore to prepare a meal. Since, however, no stones suitable for supporting their cauldrons were forthcoming, they rested them on lumps of soda from their cargo. When these became heated and were completely mingled with the sand on the beach a strange translucent liquid flowed forth in streams; and this, it is said, was the origin of glass.

—Pliny the Elder, Natural History, XXXVI, Chapter 65

Natural glass has existed since the beginning of time, formed when certain types of rocks melt as a result of volcanic eruptions, lightning strikes, or the impact of meteorites, and subsequently cool and solidify. Early man is believed to have used cutting tools made of obsidian (a natural glass) to make various
primitive tools and weapons. According to the Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE), Phoenician merchants were thought to have discovered glass on the Levantine Coast.

Little is known about man’s first efforts to make glass, although it is widely believed that glassmaking was discovered in Mesopotamia. By the third millennium BCE, the basic raw materials of glass were being used to produce glazes on ceramic pots and vessels, and by 2,500 BCE, solid glass beads and amulets were being made. The oldest fragments of hollow glass vessels, however, appeared in the 16th and 15th centuries BCE in Egypt and Mesopotamia. At the beginning of the 18th Dynasty (c. 1539–1292 BCE), Egyptian glassmakers are thought to have developed a method for producing hollow glass vessels by making a core mold of compacted clay and dung and winding molten glass around it. While still soft, the glass-covered mold could be rolled on a slab of stone in order to smooth and decorate it. Next, the glassmaker would trail glass threads of brilliant color over its surface, and when the vessel was finished, he would remove the core with a pointed instrument. At roughly the same time, an independent glass industry developed in Mesopotamia, where core-formed vessels similar to those made in Egypt were being produced. There is little evidence of further evolution until the 9th century BCE, when glassmaking revived in Egypt and the Near East. Over the next millennium, glass production centered in Alexandria in Egypt and near Sidon on the Levantine Coast, from where it is thought to have eventually spread to Italy. During this period of experimentation and innovation, glassmakers perfected and/or explored a number of different techniques, including core forming, rod forming, and mold casting. Clay tablets unearthed from the extensive library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (685–627 BCE) include the first written instructions on how to make glass and how to construct a glass furnace.

A major breakthrough in glassmaking occurred with the invention of the blowpipe. Attributed to Syrian glass makers in the 1st century BCE, the blowpipe allowed the glassmaker to inflate molten glass with his breath and create a host of new shapes and forms. By order of the Emperor Augustus (63 BCE–14 CE), who wanted
to concentrate the production of various crafts on the Italian mainland, glassmakers from Syria and Egypt were imported as slaves, and by the 1st century CE, the glassmaker’s craft had been transformed into an industry. It was about this time that glassmakers began blowing glass inside molds, greatly increasing the variety of shapes possible for hollow cast items. The Romans did much to spread glassmaking technology. With their conquests, elaborate network of roads, trade relations, and strong political and economic infrastructure, the Romans created the conditions for the flourishing of glassmaking across Western Europe and the Mediterranean. During the reign of Augustus, for example, glass vessels began to appear throughout Italy, Gaul, Germany, and Spain. Roman glass has even been found as far afield as China, shipped along the silk routes. The popularity of Roman glass rested not only on its usefulness and reasonable price but also on
its transparency and the beauty of its forms and colors. During the 1st through the 3rd centuries CE, the major centers of glass production centered in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and in the Rhine Valley in Germany. A host of different shapes emerged, including cosmetic and perfume containers, drinking and eating vessels, flasks, and other shapes and forms meant to imitate ceramics and metal. By the 5th century CE, however, the use of glass declined and many previously known techniques disappeared. It was not until the 7th century CE that glassmaking reemerged as a prominent art form in Europe and the Middle East, where it has continued to be a viable and functional art form to this day.

John Olbrantz is the Maribeth Collins Director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.