[PA-NJ Glassblowers] Lebanon's Last Glassblower Gets Boost From Recycled Bottles

Tony Patti gaffer at glassblower.info
Mon Feb 24 20:50:23 EST 2014

Not every day you see an article about glassblowing in the Wall Street





Lebanon's Last Glassblower Gets Boost From Recycled Bottles

By Brooke Anderson



Lebanon's last glassblowers show off their craft at their workshop and store
in Sarafand on the southern coast of Lebanon.  Photo by Brooke Anderson


SARAFAND, Lebanon: With the oven ablaze melting shattered glass in the
workshop and the nearby store abuzz with curious customers, it is hard to
imagine that just a few months ago Lebanon's last glass blower was about to
close shop for good.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon the shop in the southern coast town of
Sarafand was filled with admiring customers asking about the craftsmanship
of the glass items at Khalife Brothers. The owner, Hussein Khalife, gladly
shows them the ultra-high temperature oven where he and his family melt the
glass, shape it into a ball, and then blow through a long tube to make items
in various forms and colors. The craftsmen bask in the attention of
customers who are there as much for the purchase as they are for the
experience watching the process of glassblowing from start to finish.

The trade that had been passed down for hundreds of years from one
generation to the next, giving a marketable skill to those who learned it,
hadn't been so good in recent years.

As a child Mr. Khalife learned the ancient art of glassblowing from his
father, who always reminded his son of his duty to keep the legacy of
glassblowing going. But the last year had gone by with nearly no sales. He
thought that he had to face the inevitable closure of his business - the
last of its kind in Lebanon and one of the few remaining in the Eastern
Mediterranean, the birthplace of glassblowing.

Until the conflict broke out in Syria three years ago there were seven
glassblowing workshops in operation, whose businesses have now been put on
hold indefinitely.


Image from inside the store in Sarafand on the southern coast of Lebanon. 

 Photo by Brooke Anderson



Last year Ziad Abichaker, founder of the environmental waste management
company Cedar Environmental, came to the Lebanese glassblowers with a
proposition: make glass products out of used bottles that would have sales
points across Beirut. Mr. Abichaker worked with the glassblowers on
developing more contemporary minimalist designs that would suit a more urban
taste, a switch from the more ornate pieces the Khalifes had been making
until now. He likes to describe the initiative as killing two birds with one
stone: finding a use for Lebanon's used beer bottles - that will divert
around 12,000 beer bottles from landfills - and saving the country's
glass-blowing trade.

So far, the new blown glass pieces have proven a popular item - with 30
orders for just over $20,000 over a period of three months, a huge boost to
the glass blower who had all but closed shop. Displayed prominently on the
shelves of cafes around town, the glass lamps, cups and vases - and the
story behind them - are appealing to customers in Beirut.

"The response has been wonderful, so I'm aware of the potential," says Mr.
Abichaker. "I'm really confident. When I get involved, I get involved for
the long run. We'll be there for at least the next five years.

Indeed this new shift in this ailing local industry is one of many that have
taken place throughout its more than thousand-year-old history. The
glassblowing workshops that once dotted the shores of the Eastern
Mediterranean, eclipsing other glassmaking techniques of their day, spread
throughout the Roman Empire, eventually reaching Europe, where it continues
to be a fine art in Venice.

Today's Lebanese glassmakers are now once again looking beyond their shores
- Europe and the United States - to sell the items. There have already been
50 orders from Switzerland, a sign that there is indeed a foreign demand.
Mr. Abichaker says he is thinking of selling them online, though he
acknowledges that whatever pictures are posted won't be the same thing that
reaches the customer, since the tiny bubbles in the hand-blown glass always
appears in different places each time a piece is made - no doubt a welcome
flaw to those who appreciate hand-made crafts.

Back at the shop in Sarafand, customers ask the glassblowers if certain
items are manufactured.

"No, everything we do is handmade," says Nisrine Khalife, Hussein's niece,
whose job it is to hand-paint decorations on the glass items. "If it were
manufactured then it would be ordinary. Every piece is different."


Tony Patti
gaffer at glassblower.info

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