Witnessing an Ancient and Awe-inspiring Craft

The Glassblower of Hebron

Hebron, one of the oldest cities in the world and the largest city in the West Bank was declared a World Craft City in 2016 for its excellence in traditional handmade arts and crafts such as embroidery, ceramics, pottery and especially glass making. Hebron’s Old Town houses one of the world’s most famous and last traditional glassblowers.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Malak Hasan

The Qazzazine (Glass Workers' Neighbourhood) in Hebron's Old Town, with its mediaeval stone buildings, arches and endless alleys, is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ibrahimi Mosque), an ancient structure that is Hebron's most important holy site and the burial place of the prophet Abraham and his family. Since 2016, the ancient city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reflecting its thousands of years of cultural and human heritage.

Just 15 metres from The Tomb lies a small workshop, which immediately draws you in with its old-world charm and a mesmerising display of glass sculptures that adorn the walls and ceiling, with the sunlight making them shine like jewels. The sculptures are diverse and intricate in an array of vibrant colours, and clink gently as you walk past them. Stepping further into the store, you are met by the warm and soft glow of the crackling oven.

 

“I was determined to use the oven, to make something with the glass, it called out to me.”
Life of art

Owner Yakob Waheed Al-Natsheh, known as Abu Waheed, is famous throughout Palestine and celebrated for his beautifully handmade glassware. This craft, known as glassblowing is a technique in which molten glass is formed into sculptures, invented by Syrian craftsmen in the 1st century BC.

Waheed has been working as a glass blower almost all his life. It's a skill that has been passed down through his family for generations and dates back more than 400 years. His craftsmanship is nothing short of works of art; his skill and measured precision are unparalleled, as he can create intricate pieces that few other glass artists can replicate. In fact, almost 90 percent of the glassware in Palestine comes from his studio.

As a young boy, Waheed helped in his uncle's glass workshop, mainly cleaning and collecting glass. He spent countless hours observing his uncle's work, completely mesmerised by the process. It was then that he fell in love with the art and grew determined to learn its secrets, often choosing to sleep in the workshop just to be near the oven. Abu Waheed's eyes sparkle as he tells how he constantly pestered his uncle to allow him to become an apprentice. ‘I was determined to use the oven, to make something with the glass, it called out to me.’ One day, while his uncle and cousins went to lunch, Abu Waheed took advantage of the empty workshop and the working oven. He decided to make a vase. Upon their return, his uncle was amazed by the craftsmanship of the vase and immediately recognized that Abu Waheed had natural talent and creativity despite his young age. ‘It was the first time that I attempted to create something, and it was more beautiful than anything any other glassmaker could make at that time.’

From that day on, Waheed’s uncle let him work in the workshop, encouraging the spring glassblower’s talent. In time, Abu Waheed was a student who not only surpassed his master, but also far surpassed all other glass artists in Hebron. This early aptitude laid the foundation for his journey as a master craftsman and eventually led him to found his own workshop, Ard Canaan (The Land of Canaan), where he has dedicated the past 55 years to his craft.

During these years, the glassblower’s skills and artistry have earned him a worldwide reputation, leading to numerous awards and invitations to showcase his gift in various countries around the world, including France, Italy, Indonesia, Dubai, Brazil and more. He uses an ancient technique and traditional tools to craft a wide range of glass items, from functional tableware to one-of-a-kind artistic creations.People often contact him and send him photos of unique sculptures that they would like to have custom made.

“He uses an ancient technique and traditional tools to craft a wide range of glass items, from functional tableware to one-of-a-kind artistic creations”
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Technique

The process of creating glass sculptures starts with collecting glass bottles, which are separated, recycled and repurposed. The bottles are placed in the oven in large batches and melted at a temperature of up to 1400 degrees, sometimes with added chemical compounds to create specific colours. Once the glass has melted, forming a thick liquid that appears almost elastic, part of it is collected on a blowpipe. The blowpipe is then used to blow air and inflate the melted glass, after which traditional tools are used to shape and manipulate it into the desired form before being decorated. Finally, it is placed in an annealing furnace to cool slowly so that it cannot break due to rapid temperature changes. The entire process is painstaking and can take up to 15 hours.

For Abu Waheed, his craft is part of him; the enchantment he felt as a boy still resonates vividly within him today. ‘This work… it is in my heart and in my blood. It brings me joy, more than you can imagine,’ he says softly and thoughtfully, gesturing to his collections.

He describes his artistic process as a quiet and spiritual practice in which he infuses his passion and soul. ‘I think about my work all day long… And at night they stay in my dreams,” he says, going on to explain how he goes over different techniques in his head when he thinks about creating sculptures. There is a practical element that requires technical precision and a creative element that makes each piece sing for him. ‘Each creation is special to me… each piece is unique; they speak to me, and I speak back.’

“I think about my work all day long… And at night they stay in my dreams”
Awe

Watching the transformation of ordinary glass bottles come to life is quite extraordinary, especially when observing the wonderment of onlookers as they watch in awe at the grace and precision that Abu Waheed showcases. His shop single-handedly revitalised the entire neighbourhood, attracting thousands of visitors, which brought new life and opportunity to the other shops.

Abu Waheed has become quite accustomed to large audiences visiting his workshop to witness his artistic process. His shop continues to bustle with local and foreign visitors who not only want to purchase one of his exquisite glass pieces, but also want to see the master at work. One of the challenges he faces is not being able to communicate adequately with his visitors due to the huge demand. His time is scarce, even when his family members help him in the store. Several news outlets wanting to feature his work in a segment have had difficulty getting an interview with Abu Waheed due to his hectic schedule.

Abu Waheed is one of the last remaining glass artists in Hebron. His work serves as a living legacy, embodying the beauty, tradition and spiritual depth of this ancient craft, leaving an indelible mark on Hebron, the rest of Palestine and beyond. Captivating and inspiring for anyone lucky enough to hear his story and see him at work in his beloved profession

“Abu Waheed is one of the last remaining glass artists in Hebron. His work serves as a living legacy, embodying the beauty, tradition and spiritual depth of this ancient craft”
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The Land of Canaan

Traditional Handmade Glass Factory Ard Canann Old City of Hebron, Palestine

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hamza Sarraj is a multi-award winning Palestinian architectural engineer and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his career to combining his heritage with ground-breaking innovation. Early in his career, he worked on the restoration and rehabilitation of the Armenian Genocide Museum in Jerusalem and oversaw projects for Bethlehem University and the Bet Sahour Arab Orthodoxy Club. He later co-founded design and development consulting studio 16 Baker Street Studio, and Zamakan Virtual Reality, a...

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Malak Hasan is a freelance journalist, photographer, and social media expert. Her career in journalism began in 2010 as a desk editor for WAFA News Agency. She later worked for several other news outlets, transitioning to social media and content creation in 2017. In 2020, Malak Ahlan founded Ahlan Palestine, a social media platform to promote tourism in Palestine through storytelling. She wrote the monthly Ahlan Palestine column for This Week in Palestine and worked with several local Palestini...

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