Wednesday February 9, 2011 | by laguiri

Glass Curiosities: London flameworker is one of the last glass eye makers

FILED UNDER: Curiosities

Haas in the middle stages of flameworking a glass eye.

The camera zooms in on the nimble, delicate fingers of Jost Haas as he flameworks a glass ball, paints on the iris, and uses the torch to cut the orb into a half-sphere before neatly arranging it in a box among many others, all the while slowly revealing details of his life and craft. He isn’t an artist in the conventional sense of the term; he’s an ocularist. He also happens to be one the last remaining glass eye makers in the world, and the very last one in the United Kingdom, a dubious distinction that inspired Tomas Leach and Ben Todd to make a short documentary film about him in 2009. Comprised of close-ups that highlight the precision and care Haas takes with the creation of each hand-made borosilicate eye, The Glass Eye Maker reveals Haas’ extraordinary talent at creating life-like pupils and irises of the perfect hue, all of which he has honed over the course of more than 40 years.

Originally from Germany, Haas relocated to the UK in 1968 to replace an ocularist who suddenly passed away. Since then, Haas has continued to craft glass eyes, often with their intended patients in the room. “Sometimes it helps for people to see you making the eye. It’s a matter of reassurance,” he told the The Times in a 2003 article.

Haas organizes the glass eyes he has created in neat rows.

British patients, some of whom go to Haas because of allergies to the acrylic used in more “modern” prosthetic eyes, have an option no longer available to their American counterparts, as not a single glass eye maker still works in the United States. According to ocularist David Gougelman, custom artificial eyemaking first came to the US in 1851 when his great-grandfather Peter Gougelmann opened an office in downtown Manhattan. The decline in glass eyes began in the late 1940s and, by the mid-1980s, ocularists ceased making them entirely. “As the [acrylic] eyes were perfected, they became the choice of the ocularists fabricating them and patients alike,” said Gougelman. Although he learned how to make a glass eye, he has never made one for a patient. [Nod to Gizmodo via Curiosity Counts]

To see how prosthetic eyes were one fabricated through flameworking, see the short film about Jost Haas by clicking on this link, or on the frame below:

Grace Duggan

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.