The Glass World of Alexey Zelya

March 2015

The works of world-famous Russian glass-blower Alexey Zelya were admired by Margaret Thatcher, the British Iron Lady and François Mitterrand, the President of France. The craftsman continues to create his brittle masterpieces in a small studio in Moscow.

Алексей Зеля

The Moscow artisan has been working with non-traditional quartz glass made of quartz crystals for 40 years. Under a temperature of up to 2,000 0C, the brittle material turns into ships and flowers, butterflies and dragonflies, beasts and fairy tale characters. Gleaming colourful compositions have no equivalents in the world. "This is a long process," the craftsman explains. "I make a draft first. I blow balls; the rest is shaped on fire. Then the sculpture is assembled out of many details." To make elaborate figurines and candle-holders, the glass-blower has to work on one item from two months to several years.

Zelya's works reflect his time-honoured love for nature – in his youth he was expected to become a biology scientist. But due to an early marriage he had to quit the biology faculty of Moscow State University and landed a job of a quartz glass blower at Moscow Electric Tube Plant. It was then when he started experimenting with glass while making animal figurines. He gradually developed his skills increasing technical difficulty to more sophisticated baskets and ships, such as brigantines, caravelles, frigates and galleons...

The information about the artisan reached the top authorities. They built a workshop for him where he then fulfilled government orders. On behalf of the country, the Kremlin Administration gifted glass compositions to François Mitterrand, the President of France, Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Olof Palme, the Prime Minister of Sweden and many other prominent politicians. The author said that it was quite often that he had accidentally known about his work presented to this or that high-rank official. The name of the craftsman was never mentioned then. In compensation, when he did not have government orders, he was allowed to create what he wanted.

Since 1988 his works have been exhibited across Russia. The tour was organized by his spouse Olga. The artist was offered to move to Australia and Sweden, to sell the collection to Japan, but he refused from all proposals. "Our people are closer to me, my own beloved audience live here," the glass-blower smiles. "And I can always go abroad as a tourist. Now, as I am retired, I can spend more time with my family – we travel together. In the last years, I and my wife have visited Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Sumatra, Cambodia, Fiji Islands, Zimbabwe, Botswana, SAR, the Philippines and many other places."

Now Alexey Zelya tours Russian cities with his display of 55 works. The collection contains one of the first items he made in the 1970s. "We call this collection a one bus show," the craftsman jokes. "Because we display as many works as a bus can hold. The exhibits are transported in plastic cubes tied to the seats."

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