We were delighted to take part in this year’s International Festival of Glass following an invitation from Simon Eccles at Wolverhampton University. He had asked us if we would like to find a leader and organise a masterclass to run at the Uni. Neil Wilkin had been on our mind to run a session at the Hub, so we asked him, and were very happy when he said yes. As ever the talented glassblower James Devereux was encouraging and supportive and offered to assist. We are incredibly lucky to have Devereux & Huskie Glassworks as our neighbours. James Devereux is one of the best makers in the country, and is continually enthusiastic and encouraging in all that we do here.
In brief, the course would explore some of the glass-making techniques and qualities that make Neil’s career and working style so unique and especially on the potential to create better work through team effort. Neil is one of those makers who very much works with the glass, somehow getting it to move and behave in a tranquil, almost effortless manner. Expertise combined with a deep knowledge of the material and a simple belief in his abilities make Neil a maker like no other. Teamed with James it would be a super-fuelled glass-making experience.
We arrived in Stourbridge on Sunday to a lovely welcome dinner. Faces from as far back as 1988 in my glass career were there, alongside The American Duo, Dante and Yanusz, and more recent friends from the Hub. This was a real mixing pot of glass makers!
As we had no access to the Uni on the bank holiday Monday, we had a nice relaxed morning, we peeped in on Dante Marioni’s Venetian skills masterclass and then retired to a room to begin our masterclass. The first session was a talk and discussion that enabled us all to get to know Neil, James and all the students’ work through speech and images. It was surprising good to have this gentle ease into the class, but we were all chomping at the bit next morning to get over to Uni …and get some hands on!
Simon Eccles was a fabulous host, and has been a key factor in keeping the university’s facilities as awesome as they are. So good to see a British university with a fantastic hot, warm and cold shop like this. It is beautifully maintained and well laid out. We were spoilt for choice: three benches, three glories and two full furnaces of quality glass – we had everything we needed. Add two great leaders and five enthusiastic students and an enthusiastic TA …Thanks Niki Steel!
Needless to say, the next two and a half days saw the students learn masses, through demos and plenty of practice. They were lifting and mastering big gathers, looking at the fundamentals and trying everything from bowls, to sculpture and Graal. By the end of the class, it’s safe to say that everyone felt way more confident and certain of their glassmaking abilities, and understood the importance of working as part of a team. Thank you Neil Wilkin and James Devereux!
The Biennalle opening took place on Wednesday evening, bad timing for us as our last day of masterclass began the next morning and was a little tricky for, yes, ALL in our group!
At the opening, alongside the speeches, awards, prosecco and scrubbed up artists, was a selection of some of the finest glass on offer in the country. Friends from far and near, old and new mingled and we carried on till the wee hours.
I had already unloaded the Minimelt mobile studio, as we were to be part of the alfresco glassblowing in the car park. The Glass Hub and Minimelt had donated these facilities to all who wanted to just blow glass, and we were, most definitely, “Al fresco”.
With much help from Sam Cooper and Niki Steel, who both practically ran the whole show, a good time was had by all, glassmaking in the wind, rain and sun, mixed in with a lot of good fun.
Masterclasses finished, the weekend opened up to the public and demos and lectures continued to run. It was a great week, exhausting, fun and truly worthwhile. Thanks to all of those who organised it and kept it running so smoothly.