Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tonala folk art Part 2, glass blowing

Glass sculpture or undersea monster? A cluster of decorative glass sculptures hangs from the ceiling of a glass blowing factory in Tonala, Guadalajara's center for folk art workshops. This is the second part of a three-part series on these workshops.  In my last posting, you saw one of the paper mache factories and got a little dose of Tonala history.  Please refer to that posting for information about paid and  free tours of Tonala's folk art workshops.

It all starts with intense heat. Glass melts at between 2600 to 2900 degrees (F.) or 1425 to 1600 degrees (C.) depending upon the composition of the glass.  Just looking at the picture, I can almost feel the intense heat blasting out of the furnace.  Glass was discovered by potters about 3000 B.C.E., and the technique of glass blowing was invented about 100 B.C.E.  Glass blowing was introduced to Mexico in 1535, shortly after the Conquest, and has been a staple of Mexican craftsmanship ever since. 

Recycling at its best.  Clear glass bottles form the raw material for the glass factory. The huge pile here has been broken into small chunks before being fed into the ovens.   Many are recycled tequila bottles, of which there appears to be a virtually unlimited supply in Mexico. From the original, rather pedestrian use, beautiful things can be made. The workers only use clear glass so that they can add material during the manufacturing process to create beautiful swirling colors. The poles extending into the furnace are used  to pick up globs of molten glass which is then molded and blown  into the desired shape.

Glass worker blows through tube to create a wine glass.  He sat beside a metal plate which protected his legs from spatterings of hot glass.  Occupational safety officials north of the border would have heart attacks at how things operate in this factory.  As we watched, workers performed a delicate ballet, quickly and smoothly moving hot glass on the ends of poles from one work position to another.  No one wore protective clothing or face shields.  Still, everyone seemed confident in the skill of coworkers to avoid  injuring themselves or others.

Shaping the glass was a  delicate process.  The workers seemed to have only a few tools for this, including the glass blowing tube, shears, and what looked like a large pair of tweezers.

Shears are used in a variety of ways.  Not just for cutting and trimming, the shears also functioned to steady a tube held by coworker (out of picture to the right) as  two pieces of molten glass are melded together.  The glass work is certainly not without injury, as you can see from the bandage on the wrist of the worker above.

Large metal "tweezers" are used to shape the stem of a glass. The heat has persuaded this worker to doff his shirt, revealing a pattern of interesting tattoos.

There are two sets of furnaces in this factory.  The one above is used late in the process, when the glass objects are shaped and need to cure slowly.  This furnace is heated by wood, which you can see piled at the base.  The wood produces a much lower heat than the melting furnace, but enough to prevent the glass from cooling too quickly and shattering or becoming distorted.

Wine glasses cure in the final furnace.  Here you can see how the burning log is placed among the stacks of glasses to help the curing process.

And the final result.  Finished glasses were displayed in a showroom near the front of the factory. Notice how color has been introduced to some of the glasses in beautiful swirling patterns.
Wild shapes and colors attract and intrigue.  I was impressed at how plastic a medium glass really is.  Here it is stretched and twisted into an amazing variety of shapes.

Colored vases wait for flowers, or wine, or...? These vases are probably not unlike those blown by the ancient Romans using a nearly identical process 2000 years ago.

Shapes and colors again remind of undersea animals.  The glass objects in the background seemed like giant clam shells, while the corkscrew objects clustered like the tentacles of a jellyfish.

This ends part 2 of my series on Tonala.  The next part will focus on Tonala's master potter, Salvador Vasquez Carmona. He is revered among  Mexican potters not only for his beautiful work, but for the fact that he uses the old ways, developed centuries before the Spaniards arrived.

Hasta luego!  Jim


  1. does anyone have names and phone numbers for these glass blowers in Tonala...i need jewel toned wine glasses, glasses in quantity. thanks.

  2. haferguson- You might contact Charter Club Tours: They arranged the Tonala tour we took and I think they go back to the same factories. I'm sure they would be glad to provide you with contact information. Jim

  3. what is your email address. We need prices for glass products.
    our email is

  4. I am looking for contact information for the Blown Glass Hearts that you see from Tonala…can anyone help with that?

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If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim