Gustav Abel, Master Glassblower

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Gustav Abel
Picture of Gus working.
Master Glassblower
(Clicking on any of the photos will take you to a larger view of them all.)

This page is about Gus Abel, the Master Glassblower I apprenticed under at GTE Laboratories. The information on it was derived from numerous conversations with Gus over the years, listening to his stories, and asking him questions. I may not remember all of it completely accurately, but it's pretty close. The opinions I express may be slightly biased, but that's life.

Update, June 2010: The text on this page was written not long after this website originally went online in 1997. Because Gus had such an impact on me over the years, both on my career as a glassblower and on a personal level, it was one of the first pages I put together for the website. After Gus retired in 1986 I continued to visit him whenever I made it back to Massachusetts, which was not as often as I would have liked. But due to some upheavals over the last few years, including my move to Georgia from New York, I hadn't been back to visit for several years. Nor had I kept in touch as I should have. That is something I deeply regret. It wasn't until it was too late that I found out he had been very ill.

Gus Abel died on May 20, 2010. He was loved dearly and will be missed very, very much.

Gus was my friend and my mentor. He taught me about much more than just glassblowing. He taught me about life. It was a tremendous privilege to know him and be called his friend.

The life and times of Gus Abel (the highly condensed version).

Gus began his career as a scientific glassblower in Budapest, Hungary, a few years before World War II. His father was a glassblower, and his sister later became one also. A Hungarian paratrooper during the war, a few days after it ended Gus was invited (at gunpoint) to spend a "vacation" as a slave laborer in a Soviet coal mine. (This whole thing is a story in itself - I won't go into it here.) Two and one half years later he was released from the coal mine and shipped back to Budapest, somewhat worse for wear. (His own sister didn't recognize him when he approached the front gate to his family's house - she went inside to get some scraps of food for the poor starving "beggar". Only after returning and getting close enough to look into his eyes did she realize this was her own brother, who had disappeared without a trace two and a half years before!) While Decanter setregaining his health and strength Gus also had to relearn glassblowing, due to a hand that had been badly damaged in a mining accident. He got his life back together, and was doing well working as a glassblower, when everything changed again...

In the Autumn of 1956 Soviet tanks and soldiers rolled into Budapest and people started dying. One night during the turmoil, three strangers came to his parents' home looking for Gus. Fortunately, he wasn't there. (This was the Soviet way of "disappearing" people.) After hearing about the visitors, Gus and his wife Klara decided they had to leave. The very next day they fled the country, escaping with only the clothes on their backs. Although neither spoke any English, they eventually made their way to the U.S. where Gus went to work as a scientific glassblower at the Sylvania research lab in Bayside, New York. In 1963 Gus and his wife became U.S. citizens. He worked as a scientific Glass locomotiveglassblower until 1986, when he retired from GTE Laboratories in Waltham, Massachusetts (GTE - at the time called General Telephone - bought Sylvania in 1959). I was his apprentice at GTE Labs from 1981 until 1986.

As well as doing scientific glasswork, Gus made various artistic glass pieces during lunch hours and when things were slow in the shop. When I was hired he was in the process of making a glass carousel. To this day I still consider it one of the most amazing pieces of lampworking I have seen. It is made completely out of glass, except for the small electric motor and rubber drive belt which turn it. In addition to the carousel turning, the horses of the carousel go up and down as it turns. Most incredible of all, the gears and all the mechanics that drive the horses are made of glass! I hope to have a picture of it available here soon, even though a picture will not do it justice. One really has to see it working to truly appreciate it.

Although it has been more than twelve years since we worked together, and since I left Massachusetts, I keep in touch with Gus and try to visit whenever I am back in the area. He hasn't done any glassblowing since he retired, and now spends much of his time trying to get his computer to work.

*Update to above - he approves

When I have a chance, I will add more to this page - about Gus himself, about glassblowing in Hungary in the pre- and postwar years, and some photos of him and his glass. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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