In Lebanon, the last of the first glass blowing artisans

In all of Lebanon, only one family still practices the dying art of glass blowing, invented here more than 2,000 years ago. It's painstaking work with little monetary reward.

Nicholas Blanford
Mahmoud Khalife forms a water jug from molten glass. His family's glass blowing business is the last one in Lebanon.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

This sprawling coastal village in south Lebanon was once known as Sarepta, a Phoenician port where the art of blowing down a thin hollow tube to shape glass was invented more than 2,000 years ago.

Today the family-run business of Ali Khalife is the last glass blowing enterprise in Lebanon. Mr. Khalife recycles glass scavenged from garbage sites and turns it into vases, water jugs, earrings, drinking glasses, and other examples of the glass blower’s art.

All the employees are family members. Apprenticeship begins at the age of 12 and lasts for eight years before trainees are allowed to say they have mastered this delicate skill. Mahmoud Khalife, Ali’s nephew, sits in front of the furnace’s open door, which blasts out waves of orange heat from the pool of molten glass inside.

“I’m used to the heat. It doesn’t bother me anymore,” he says.

It takes 24 hours to heat up the homemade kiln to the required 2,552 degrees F.

The kiln is split into two sections: The larger contains molten clear glass and the smaller section, the colored glass. Mahmoud dips the end of a thin tube into the molten glass and then blows briefly and gently down it, forming a bubble of glass on the end. He swings the tube in circles to elongate the viscous glass into what will be the neck of a water jug. The handle is attached separately with stretched blobs of red glass, and the vessel is decorated with a coiled thread of green glass.

It is demanding work for little monetary reward, but Khalife says he hopes to continue. “It would be sad if Lebanon lost its glass-blowing business completely,” he says.

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