My trip to South Africa included a quick visit to the country of Swaziland. And no trip to Swaziland is complete without a visit to Ngwenya Glass
It was pretty darn cool.
I've seen countless glass studio's in my day, but few that operated like this one. It's a factory. The tools, equipment, etc are the same as smaller operations, but it's the way they work and why they work that makes this different.
The glassblowers at Ngwenya Glass work in teams of 2-5, depending on what they are making. Each person has 1 specific job (for example, gathering glass from the furnace, or loading the finished piece into the cooling oven). Essentially, they are an assembly line of glassblowers.
The same can be said about the way I (and many other production glassblowers) work. After all, most of the things I make are production pieces. I design a product, figure out how to make it, then will make it again. And again. And again. (Once in a while, I make one of a kind pieces, and I enjoy that process as much as making the production pieces).
But, back to the differences:
To these factory workers, this is a job. They don't design the products. Most have never worked with glass, studied glass in school, or apprenticed with other artists. If they were given an hour to make something other than a product from the Ngwenya Glass line, they probably couldn't do it. But they are very skilled at what they do. Do they have a creative mind? Maybe. But at work, it's their job to do their specific task(s). It's their job to make not create.
When I travelled to Venice and Murano 10 years ago, I saw the same thing (with the exeption of my visit to Pino Signoretto's studio).
Simply put, it's not better or worse than what I do. It's just different.
So, of course I bought something. A little hippo wine glass to add to my collection of handmade goblets. And a little elephant votive.
When I returned to the US, I told a fellow glassblower about the factory, and about my purchases. And he seemed surprised I would buy something. Why? Because I could make it? Because it was factory made? I'm not really sure. The truth is, it's still handmade, it's still handblown glass, and it was a pretty awesome souvenir of an awesome trip.