Stories, Whispers from the Past and the Present, now showing at The Trades House in Glasgow, is a joint exhibition of the Scottish Glass Society (SGS) and the Contemporary Glass Society (CGS).
There are around 70 works on display, by fifty glass artists from across the memberships of the two societies. In recognition of the United Nations-designated International Year of Glass 2022, the exhibition is also hosting the Glass Society of Ireland’s Glass Quilt – A Breath of Fresh Air – The Keep Well Glass Quilt Project.
This is the first physical SGS exhibition since 2019, and Chairperson Catherine Lowe says, ‘It feels like it has been a long time coming, but it is such a delight to be able to return to real exhibition spaces with opportunities to see live work and meet people once again!’
The displayed works demonstrate a wide variety of traditional and contemporary glass techniques, and there is visual excitement in the abundant colour, translucency and opacity, in textured and polished surfaces, in the pictorially-accurate or in abstract designs, and in the contrasts of scale and variety of styles. Most of the work is for sale, and is priced across a wide range, with the work of artists at an early stage in their development shown here directly alongside established artists, which SGS Curator Eilidh Mackenzie highlights as a big positive.
The labelling of pieces is informative, describing glass techniques (in some cases) and giving insight into the stories behind the pieces. It is evident in their narratives how much all these artists love their material.
The theme and title for the exhibition are taken from Scotland’s Year of Stories, with the works inspired by its five strands: Iconic stories and storytellers; New stories; Scotland’s people and places; Local tales and legends; Inspired by nature. The natural world and environmental concerns in fact provide inspiration for many of the exhibited pieces.
These are just a few of very many highlights:
Mussel Shells by Chris MacCormick, is in cast glass. MacCormick takes inspiration from the island of Iona. The mussels are beautifully depicted and a background of muted sea colours accentuates this.
Solitary Tree by Wendy Newhofer, is in float glass with fused metals – the artist conveys the solitary tree in silhouette very successfully, with a loch and hills behind, immaculately done. Newhofer has said, ‘I make a design and then layer glass with precious metal leaf and foil using wire to ‘draw’ within the glass.’
The Drums of Calton Hill by Vicky Higginson, is hand-blown and cold-worked glass. These two drumsticks, with their inspiration in folklore and rituals associated with Calton Hill, Edinburgh, are pieces that stir the imagination. Curator of the show and glass works teacher Eilidh Mackenzie notes that it is to be appreciated how difficult some of the elements here are to make, and these are beautifully made.
The Path of Self Destruction by Siobhan Healy models glass sponges – Venus Flower Baskets of the Pacific Ocean – in a series of incredibly delicate organic forms. The artist acknowledges help from the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers in realising this work.
The Rockpool by Phillipa Silcock uses cast glass, blended colours and layering to create the depth of a wonderful rockpool that recalls the artist’s childhood.
Turn of the Tide by Gail Turbutt is an Atlantic Hen Salmon in sculpted glass that contains colours of the fish and of the waters it’s moving through. The artist beautifully conveys a sense of the salmon‘s movement through foaming waters, and the translucency of the glass also helps convey the idea of light transmission through the water.
Bee of Life by stained glass artist Brian Waugh is an immaculately executed and incredibly detailed painting of the bees, flowers and tree, created using the techniques of acid etching, high fired paint, enamel and silver stain.
The Dunfermline Abbey Triptych by Steven Graham, artist in residence of Dunfermline Abbey, is in stained glass. Three circular window panels illustrate the history of the Abbey and the royal figures associated with it, set into oak barrel lids on forged steel leg stands. All are wonderfully and skilfully illustrated and lettered.
A Breath of Fresh Air – The Keep Well Glass Quilt Project, is a collaborative glass quilt by fifty members of the Glass Society of Ireland, undertaken during the third wave of COVID-19 and its 12 weeks of lockdown. The quilt is beautifully presented on a purpose-made hanging frame, with the rhomboid-shaped glass pieces, two per artist, fastened to a translucent brass mesh. There is a wonderfully wide variety of pieces, both pictorial and abstract, which keeps the viewer absorbed in its detail for some considerable time. The project’s great benefit for the wellbeing of the participating makers has been widely acknowledged.
Although this body of work comes from a committed and enthusiastic community of glass artists, it is sobering to learn that craftspeople with the skills to work in art glass are in short supply. Significant Scottish College and University courses have recently been lost and educational opportunities need to increase in order to allow this traditional craft to continue through new generations. Steven Graham, an art glass educator as well as stained glass artist, writes very informatively and passionately about this in the exhibition catalogue and I’m sure this show will provide inspiration to support the cause.
For this viewer, with almost no knowledge of art glass working techniques, there are most certainly many moments of saying to oneself, ‘that is amazing, just how is that done?’ This is a great show of contemporary art glass which can be enjoyed and appreciated by all of us, with beautiful work demonstrating great skill and imagination. Be sure to get along to see it soon.
After its Glasgow showing, the exhibition will travel in October to the WASPS Creative Academy in Inverness.
Glasgow – Wednesday 14th to Thursday 22nd September 2022, 10 am to 4pm daily (closed on Monday 19th September to respectfully mark the funeral of Queen Elizabeth); Inverness – Tuesday 4th to Saturday 29th October 2022. 10am to 4pm daily, closed Sundays. Admission is free.