Traditional craft skills
Glassblowing Trade Skills in Līvāni (2020)
Līvāni. There is a great deal of truth to the adage that “In reality, all glassworkers come from Līvāni”. Glassblowing technology was first used to produce glassware in Līvāni late in the nineteenth century. Even as times changed, Līvāni glass workers always wanted glass making to live on in Līvāni, for there to be active glass production, and for glassblowing traditions to be maintained and passed on to new apprentices. The glassworkers of Līvāni hold knowledge of ancient glassblowing traditions and tradecraft secrets that they learned from the earlier generations they worked with alongside hot glass furnaces shaping the highest quality glassware. There are no families here without a story about glass and the Līvāni Glass Factory, because almost everyone has a family member who worked in the former factory. The original Līvāni glass factory, SIA Lettglass, closed its doors in 2008. Many glassblowers now work in other sectors and only a few sought a way to continue this ancient trade by finding work in Latvian glassblowing workshops or abroad. Since the closure, everyone in Līvāni has lived in the hope that glassblowing would rise again to continue the multi-century-old tradition that is such a hallmark of this town. Thanks to the initiative and passion of Aleksandrs Košeļevs, Līvāni Municipal Council made this hope a reality by founding a glassblowing workshop in the Latgale Arts and Crafts Centre to safeguard glassblowing traditions and provide for the transmission and development of these skills. Today glassblowing lives on in Līvāni. Two glassblowers are employed in the workshop, producing glassware from hot glass and, in the process, keeping glassblowing traditions alive here.
Līvāni Municipality safeguards this tradition of tradecraft and provides ongoing funding to the glassblowing workshop, while also supporting related activities that nurture glassblowing skills.
The skills associated with this trade are a hallmark of Līvāni and of singular cultural importance to the entire country of Latvia.
The workshop currently employs two glassblowers—Aleksandrs Logvins and Valērijs Veiss. Old-time employees of the Līvāni Glass Factory appreciate that this tradition has been reborn in Līvāni and that they now have the opportunity to drop in, reminisce about the old days, and share their glassblowing experience. The people of Līvāni understand and treasure the skills glassblowing requires, and they are proud to show their guests the glassblowing process. Collaboration is also underway with the Academy of Latvian Art and glass artists in other countries.
Importance in Community Life
For this community, the glassblowing tradition means belonging to a small, unique niche in Latvia and the world. The desire to safeguard the glassblowing tradition unites members of multiple generations. A variety of events are held to allow the community to meet and share memories and experiences.
These activities promote the safeguarding of this tradition, while also contributing to the development of local tourism, as well as a sense of belonging and patriotism in the people of Līvāni.
The Municipality was able to hold on to the Līvāni Glass Museum exhibition, which holds the story of glassblowing here, consequently giving the community confidence that their historical heritage is both safe and being developed as well as promoted.
Activities and Functions
Glassblowing can’t be just a job; it has to be a passion. Working with hot masses of glass (around 1,400oC) demands not only endurance but also immeasurable patience and mastery.
Glassblowers, like other trades, have their own particular rituals. For them, it is a dialogue between their souls and the glass. When you watch glassblowers at work, you can see how they use their movements to speak with their creations, directing their thoughts toward the expected outcome.
In the beginning, as you watch the process, it is difficult to tell what will emerge from this hot mass of glass; will it be a vase, a fruit bowl or a light fixture?
Glassware production begins when a hot mass of glass is gathered up with the glassblower’s blowpipe. The glassblower then steadily blows air into the hot mass giving it shape with a number of tools.
The creation of every work of art is a singular performance. To observers the process is enthralling. Only a few can appreciate the glassblower’s ability to sense the hot glass and control its might. To learn this art, the glassblowers must have not only practical experience, but they must also understand the technical specifications of glass furnaces and the physical and chemical properties of glass.
The production of glass requires working in pairs. The presence of the assistant allows the glassblower to create more complex glass structures which is why teamwork is a feature of this profession.
It is important for glassblowers to work in a thoughtfully organized workshop. With great attention to detail, the glassblowers have created a fascinating environment for visitors. The displays of tools and materials invite visitors to touch them and experience some of the uniqueness of this profession.
Inheritance and Transmission
Glassblowing is not taught in any of Latvia’s technical schools, nor are there any glass factories. For this reason, safeguarding the craft depends on the direct transmission of skills and learning practical skills from the master artisan. Theoretical knowledge is also necessary and that can be acquired by reading specialized literature.
A glass factory was first built in Līvāni late in the 19th century in response to favourable economic and manufacturing conditions and the availability of raw materials.
Before World War I, the Līvānu Glass Factory was the largest in Latvia with about 500 employees. The factory was destroyed during the war, but in the 1920s, Latvijas stikls [Latvian glass] renewed production. However, it didn’t achieve the desired results and soon went into bankruptcy.
In 1944, a group of experienced glassblowers gathered in Līvāni wishing to restart glass production to provide employment for workers and renew the glass manufacturing sector that had been the pride and joy of Līvāni before World War I.
The glassworkers of that time, simple people with excellent skills, were present at the beginning of this revival of Līvāni glass. The young glassblowers received instruction from the old masters.
Early in the 1960s, the Līvānu Glass Factory began to take on the shape of a large, modern glass manufacturing facility.
Automation was introduced and, as production increased, the artisans’ glassblowing skills also grew. The 1970s were marked by the addition of coloured glassware.
In the 1980s, one of the factory’s most significant achievements in its history was the production of colourless crystal glassware.
To convert designer ideas into glass, glassblowers had to be able to do very fine and creative work. In the 1980s, the company experienced a boom and a period of stable growth.
During this period, the young glassblowers were trained by 50 highly trained specialists. The work created collaboratively by artists and high-level glassblowers facilitated the visibility of glass produced in Līvāni.
The factory was privatized in the early 1990s and became A/S Līvānu stikls [Līvāni glass]. Although production volumes decreased with glassblowers working only on production lines, the factory remained at its former size.
In 2001, as cooperation developed with German firms, the factory became a German company known as SIA Lettglass. During this period, new production lines were developed and the remaining glassblowers adapted to new technologies. Production was, however, not successful and the factory ceased operations in 2008.
Although they have survived different times and conditions, glass production and glassblowing traditions in Līvāni have always recovered.
There has been a glassblowing workshop at the Līvāni Municipality’s Latgale Arts and Crafts Centre since 2016, and glass is once again being blown here.
As more attention is given to safeguarding tradecraft, people are increasingly coming to value handcrafted work, and not only the finished objects, but also the process whereby they are created.
At the Līvāni Glassblowing Workshop today, people watch the artisans engaged in the work of glassblowing with great interest. As they see the work and mastery that is involved, their understanding of the value of glasswork and the uniqueness of the profession changes.
The rebirth of glassblowing in Līvāni is also appreciated by the glass artist Juris Dunovskis (of the Studio Dunovglass) with whom there have been a number of successful collaborative projects.
Since glass is becoming an important element of contemporary design today, many glass artists, as well as students and instructors in the Glass Department at the Academy of Latvian Art, execute their ideas in the glassblowing workshop.
This experience is valuable to both parties giving the glassblowers an opportunity to experiment in collaboration with glass artists and make the kind of glass artwork they ordinarily would not.
Glassblowing traditions also involve oral traditions which have taken shape and developed along with glassblowing tradecraft.
A small lexicon has been compiled of words commonly associated with the glassblowing trade and glass production.
The dictionary was developed by consulting the available documentation and interviewing old-time glass workers in Līvāni.
The oral tradition is a separate subject that would require further research.
The individuals working in the Latgale Arts and Crafts Centre Glassblowing Workshop are the only practising glassblowers in Latvia (master Aleksandrs Logvins and his assistant Valērijs Veiss).
Aleksandrs Logvins has 36 years of experience in this profession.
Valērijs Veiss is both glassblowing assistant and apprentice.
Juris Dunovskis from Jūrmala and glass artist Anda Munkevica also have knowledge of specific skills and glassblowing traditions, as do other former glassblowers from the Līvāni, Grīziņkalns, and Iļģuciems glass factories who no longer practise the craft.
Institutions and Organizations
The Līvāni Municipal Council provides funding for the Glassblowing Workshop, which is located in the Latgale Arts and Craft Centre, a structural unit of Līvāni Municipality. The funding covers the cost of fuel, utilities, raw materials, tools, and salaries for the glassblowers.
The Art Academy of Latvia offers innovative ideas for the development of glass art and technology. Collaboration with glassblowers in the workshop brings these into being.
Significant support comes from SIA Ceram Optec which provides consultations and technical assistance for workshop operations.
Strengthening the Tradition
One of the first steps taken toward increasing appreciation of the glassblowing tradition was preserving the Līvāni Glass Museum collection after the firm’s bankruptcy and installing the Līvāni Glass Museum exhibit in the Latgale Arts and Crafts Centre in 2013.
To provide for the preservation of the glassblowing tradition, Līvāni Municipality established the Glassblowing Workshop in 2016. The workshop was equipped with all the necessary equipment including a crucible for melting glass, an annealing furnace, specialized tools (blowpipes, tongs, shears, vises), a special glassblowers workbench, and raw material for glassblowing. A glassblower and glassblowing assistant are employed in the workshop.
This means the glassblower has the ability to work, develop their skills, train their assistant, and pass on their knowledge in an organized work environment.
The general public also has the opportunity to visit the glassblowing workshop (tourists, students, and other interested individuals).
The Latgale Arts and Craft Centre receives on average 10,000 visitors annually. Observers watch how a mass of molten glass is transformed into a glass object and are told about the work of the glassblower.
The opportunity to see in person the glassblower at work has stimulated the growth of tourism in Līvāni.
The number of visitors to the Latgale Arts and Crafts Centre has increased by about 1,500 every year.
The glassblowing workshop is in its fourth year of operation. During this time, it has developed collaboration with the Glass Department instructors at the Art Academy of Latvia (Vineta Groza, Ilze Dūdiņa, Inita Ēmane) as well as with glass artist Anna Varnase, owner of the Glass Point studio.
Products made in the glassblowing workshop (glassware and souvenirs) are available for sale in the Latgale Arts and Craft Centre shop. At least two exhibitions are held every year; one is an exhibit of work completed in the workshop, while the other presents the work of glass artists.
To date, several artists have had exhibits here, including Juris Dunovskis, Marks Ekstrands, Ineta Pudža. There has also been a joint exhibit featuring AAL instructors and students in collaboration with the Glasstone studio.
Several grant applications have been prepared to support the development of glassblowing trade traditions.
1. Late in 2015, a pamphlet of stories told by glass workers was published through the Dzīvais stikls [Living glass] project, funded by the State Culture Capital Foundation.
2. In 2016, a fully equipped glassblowing workshop was set up with financial support from Līvāni Municipality and the State Culture Capital Foundation. Glassblower Aleksandrs Logvins was hired for this position.
3. In 2018, a successful application was made to the Latvia-Lithuania-Estonia Cross-Border Co-Operation Program for 2014–2020, for the project The Preservation of Glass Making Traditions and Glass Craft Development.
Implementing this project in 2021 is the most immediate challenge for the Latgale Arts and Crafts Centre, as they work to develop and safeguard glassblowing traditions.
The goal of the project is to preserve the disappearing historical heritage of the glassblowing trade and to promote valuable glassblowing skills, increase the visibility of the glassblowing trade among youth, and engage in exchange experiences with partners abroad.
The project entails instruction in glassblowing for the general public, instruction in glass grinding and engraving for apprentices, exchange visits, masterclasses for glassblowers and glass designers, as well as thematic and educational conferences, seminars, and symposia.
The project also provides for promotional activities, supplies for the workshop, and publication of symposia catalogues.
At this time, the glassblowing workshop is funded entirely by Līvāni Municipality.
In 2019, expenditures for the workshop amounted to €62,684. In addition to the funding provided by the municipality, additional funding is being sought through a number of programmes.
A plan for the next five years has been developed; the Plan to Ensure Sustainability of the Glassblowing Workshop for 2020—20215, will support the workshop’s projected development.
1. Work will continue on developing and cataloguing the Līvāni Glass Museum exhibition, along with making new acquisitions and supporting research.
2. In an effort to boost visibility, a logo was developed for Līvāni Glass. This logo is applied to objects available for sale in the Latgale Arts and Craft Centre souvenir shop.
Guests are welcomed into the workshop for glassblowing demonstrations. In 2018, the Glassblowing Workshop received the Latvian Heritage designation which is extended to tourist sites that celebrate Latvian cultural heritage.
This designation tells visitors that these are places where artisans are prepared to offer demonstrations, talk about, and teach their crafts.
3. Collaboration with the Glass Department at the Art Academy of Latvia increases the visibility of glassblowing traditions among glass artists and interest in learning them.
It is also possible to increase visibility abroad by hosting ERASMUS students.
In 2020, one student from the Olustvere School of Service and Rural Economics in Estonia studied the trade of glassblower’s assistant under the direction of Aleksandrs Logvins.
4. There has also been cooperation with supermarkets that have hosted photo exhibits devoted to Līvāni glass. Cooperation is also anticipated with museums and other facilities to display exhibits of Līvāni glass.
Threats to the Tradition
1. Glassblowing technology is complex and expensive.
Making glassware requires setting up a glassblowing workshop.
Planning must include provisions for the availability of energy resources (e.g., gas, electricity) that fuel the crucible, the blowpipe heating furnace, the glass heating furnace, as well as the annealer.
There are very few specialists skilled in installing and servicing these furnaces. Glassblowing equipment is very specialized and, therefore, expensive. The workshop requires tools and raw materials that must be purchased outside Latvia.
2. There are very few individuals with knowledge of the craft.
Two of these are currently employed in Līvāni. These glassblowers need apprentices to ensure continuity of the glassblowing tradition.
There are no schools or programs in Latvia that offer such instruction.
The glassblowing craft can only be learned from the working artisans in Līvāni. There is a plan to develop a training program in the future in conjunction with an educational institution.
Apprentices must be interested in learning this age-old craft. The Olustvere School of Service and Rural Economics in Estonia offers an introductory course but employment opportunities are limited. The glassblowing profession demands ongoing study and development.
3. Loss of local government interest.
3. Loss of interest by the Municipality. As the membership of the Līvāni Municipal Council changes, there is there the risk that supports for the glassblowing tradition could be lost, funding from the county budget could decrease and threaten the continued existence of the tradition. The glassblowing workshop could be rented to glassblowers or other private individuals motivated to take on this work, thus continuing these traditions.
4. The nature of the working conditions, health effects, and workplace safety.
A set of regulations that glassblowers must follow has been developed. The glassblowers must be appropriately dressed and they must take the necessary precautions while at work, wear safety glasses and a visor. They undergo annual medical examinations. Health and safety are the responsibility of the glassblowers themselves which means that they must do their utmost to be careful and remain aware of their health status.
Latgale Arts and Crafts Centre, Līvāni Municipal Council, reg. no. 0900005397
Pentane, P. (1980). Mastery wedges. Riga: flame
Anspaks, A. (1983). Livani. Riga: source
Vilcans P. (1987) Livani glass on the world roads. Livani
(2015.) Living glass. Livani. Latgale art and craft centre.
http://www.livanustikls.lv/par-mums/livanu-stikla-muzejs/ - A brief description of the history of the Livani glass factory.
https://klasika.lsm.lv/lv/raksts/makslinieka-darbistaba/aleksandrs-logvins-pedejais-ikdiena-stradajosais-stikla-putejs-l.a75303/ - read and listen to interview with glass blower A. Logvin. The glass blower tells him how he learned the profession.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtKMbIWmdjY - Glassware traditions are born in Livans
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb6793-SiRU - Demonstration of the manufacture of a glass product
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dV2qwERpMZs - The opening of the glass bladder A. Login exhibition 2018.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-1uxpxbNyE - Alexander Logvin receives the cultural mark “Latvia Heritage”, the video shows a glass blower assistant/apprentice Valerijs Veis