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Iwao Matsushima                                                                                                            
Three Essays

Resurrecting core-formed Glass                                     My Devotion to Core-formed Glass,  
The Treasure Hidden in Japan

A Catalogue of 48 pages was prepared for Matsushima's solo Exhibit opening May 29 at Mostly Glass Gallery in Englewood, NJ. The work will also be Exhibited at SOFA NY, June 2004.The Catalogue will contain images of the estimated 30 pieces Iwao is preparing for hi solo. Texts from the Catalogue will be posted here. Below are three of the Essays in the Catalogue

IWAO MATSUSHIMA Resurrecting Core-formed Glass

Dr. Christopher Lightfoot,
Associate Curator, Greek & Roman Art, Metropolitan  Museum, NY  

Glass making was one of the most unusual and sophisticated discoveries made by our early ancestors. Although the exact circumstances of this discovery are unknown, it probably took place in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) more than four millennia ago – that is, in the late 3rd millennium BC. Man-made glass was first used to make small beads, most often blue-colored to imitate ones in precious lapis lazuli. It took another stroke of genius several centuries later for man to adapt this skill to making glass vessels – small containers made in the core-form technique. The products of the early glass industry were practical and functional, yet this does not do justice to the skill and artistry that was involved. Initially, the creation of glass itself must have seemed to be magical and divinely inspired. It was the first synthetic material to be invented by man, and its unique properties – hard but malleable, translucent but impermeable, strong but delicate – meant that it came to be imbued with special properties. Even today many societies regard glass as having apotropaic qualities and use brightly-colored glass amulets to ward off the evil eye.

As more and more raw glass was produced in the early urban civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the mysterious attributes of glassmaking came to be associated more with the craftsmen who manipulated the hot glass, turning it into exquisite works of color and light. Such skills were highly prized and jealously guarded, while the vessels were reserved for special use. Most often they contained rare and expensive perfumes, and they were used in religious ceremonies and at the courts of the rich and powerful. The history of core-forming is long and complex. The earliest vessels were probably made in Mesopotamia in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1450 BC), but a rival industry quickly developed in Egypt, and this came to dominate the market for glass in the ancient world. Although recipes for making glass are preserved in cuneiform tablets, it appears that the Egyptian glass workers guarded the secret of core-forming closely, for neither the Hittites of Anatolia nor the Minoans and Mycenaeans of the Aegean mastered the technique. The skill was seemingly lost when the New Kingdom collapsed in ca. 1070 BC.

The making of core-formed glass did not revive until the second half of the 8th century BC. This new Mesopotamian industry was apparently small-scale, although its products have been found scattered right across the ancient Near East. The vessels may be seen as inferior to those of the Late Bronze Age, since they display less creativity in their shapes and use of color. However, it served an important role in the development of core-forming in the eastern Mediterranean during the mid-6th century BC. Although the vessels came to be known by 19th-century archaeologists as ‘Phoenician’ glass, their shapes copy the standard forms of Greek pottery – the alabastron, amphoriskos, aryballos, and oinochoe. These containers were thus made for the Greek market and were traded widely across the ancient world. Although the industry functioned for some five hundred years, there was little by way of experimentation and innovation. Admittedly, the core-form technique imposed certain restrictions on size, but the limited repertoire of colors and designs must have been inspired largely by other factors. Certainly, in tandem with the core-form industry, there developed another that used a casting technique to create open shapes such as bowls and dishes as well as closed containers. Here glass workers seem to have been more willing to experiment with new shapes, colors, and forms of decoration, including cold-cutting. The conservatism of the core-form industry must surely be attributed to the special position that its products held in society.

Core-formed glass continued to be produced until the very end of the 1st century BC or even into the first decades of the 1st century AD. By then, however, the invention of glass-blowing had revolutionized the ancient glass industry. Vessels could be produced by glass-blowers more quickly, easily, and cheaply than by the traditional method of core-forming. As mass production took over, and glass vessels became ubiquitous, the age-old skill of core-forming was abandoned and forgotten. Nevertheless, the fully-fledged Roman glass industry depended heavily on the skills and techniques that were first mastered by craftsmen making core-formed vessels. The manipulation of hot glass to create trails, handles, rims, and bases was an essential part of glass-blowing, but this would not have been possible without the knowledge gained from core-forming.  

Over the past century there have been many attempts to revive the art of core-forming. Some have been scientific in purpose – experiments aimed at testing theories about the nature of the ancient craft. Others have been less reputable, as glass workers using traditional methods have not only made core-formed vessels that imitated ancient models but also passed their products off as antiquities. Few, however, have been inspired to create works of art that seek to redefine the essence of the ancient vessels. The work of Iwao Matsushima achieves this end in a subtle and yet spectacular way. The basis for all of his compositions is core-forming, a technique that he has refined and expanded in a truly remarkable way. So, although the inspiration for some of Iwao Matsushima’s pieces (compare the Vessels above to the right to M5 in the middle) comes from Egyptian glass of the second millennium BC, others (for example, Vessel M4, top of the page) bear a close resemblance to cast striped bowls of the early Roman period. This breadth of knowledge, combined with the technical mastery that Iwao Matsushima has acquired over many years of working with glass, gives his art an eclectic feel, taking it beyond the constraints of mere imitation.

Indeed, many of Iwao Matsushima’s creations, especially the very distinctive ‘cones’, transcend the physical and evoke the spirit and the very essence of ancient glass. This is how they should be viewed – as magical objects imbued with deep and secret powers. The appearance of bands of pseudo-hieroglyphs (image below) on many of his works may be seen to reflect the sanctity of the ancient art. As suggested above, in Egypt and elsewhere ancient glass workers must have held a privileged position in society, similar to that of priests and scribes. They were keepers of a special knowledge, by means of which beautiful things were created that ordinary people could admire but not fully understand. So it is with Iwao Matsushima’s work. This exhibition, organized specially by Mostly Glass Gallery, allows us a privileged viewing of some of his creations – the first time that Iwao Matsushima has had a solo exhibit in America.



My Devotion to
Ancient Glass

 Iwao Matsushima  


                                                  Thirty years ago I saw a few small ancient Egyptian core-formed vessels in a museum near my home in Japan (above image to the left). The sight of these vessels stirred in my heart a curiosity to try to reproduce them. I had studied art and design but had no knowledge of glass making. I began educating myself in the discovery and development of my own techniques for core-forming. Although my first attempts failed repeatedly, it was a new and interesting experience. I created tools using whatever I could find around me and tried time and again to solve each of the many problems. After several years of experience, I gradually come to understand the core-forming technique. Although it is considered the most inefficient, the very limiting and the most demanding of the glass techniques, it eventually revealed to me a hidden diversity of expressions. The diversity in my work may be due to the magic of this technique.

                                                    Currently, only a small number of persons worldwide know ancient glass techniques. Even though it became extinct for a long period, core-forming is neither an obsolete nor a rusted technique. My hope is that many will see that through my work. In spite of my 30 years experience, I still face failures and continuously devise a new process to create novel work. I enjoy having been the one who restarted a clock that stopped working, and made it move into the future. I plan to continue working with Core-Forming Glass for the rest of my life.


The Treasure hidden in Japan               
Sami Harawi

We were mesmerized by the
Cones (above right) and the other Matsushima vessels in the cover story of VETRO magazine a few years ago. The actual vessels were even more appealing than the promise of the images. That was the start of a fulfilling exchange between Mostly Glass and Matsushima that culminated in the solo exhibit and this Catalogue. We did not want the Catalogue to be a photo album of Iwao’s Masterpieces. Our hope is that it will add to the reader’s knowledge and appreciation of the Work beyond the esthetic appeal. We heavily cross referenced text, images and technical information in order to make the Catalogue a useful resource.

Matsushima’s aim is not only to resurrect the most ancient of the glass techniques; he wants his objects to actually connect us to the Ancient World. This intriguing World is the backdrop for Iwao’s Work. We attempted to have it as an invisible link between the different parts of this Catalogue. Christopher Lightfoot’s essay on Resurrecting Core-formed Glass provides a solid basis for this concept, and the concept culminates in My Devotion to Ancient Glass by Matsushima . This devotion is prominent in various aspects of Iwao’s work. He can faithfully reproduce ancient objects , and what seems like innovative designs often have links to the past. Beads were the first objects made when man discovered Glass. The beads Iwao uses on some of his vessels and on their metal stands are not only decorative elements; they are his homage to the artisans from antiquity. The relief pattern often present in his vessels is a Mystery Code for the viewer to decipher. Iwao wants us to guess what it means. It is an implicit connection between Iwao, us and the vanished Ancient World. For Christopher Lightfoot, this relief represents pseudo-hieroglyphs… (that) may be seen to reflect the sanctity of the ancient art

Core-formed glass is a Passion for Iwao Matsushima as a historic event and as a tool for him to revive and perpetuate that history. He is among those who significantly contributed to resurrecting this heritage.
He is The Master of core-formed glass.