The Freedom of the ‘One Off’ Masterclass with Joseph Harrington

The Glass Hub welcomed Joseph Harrington once again for a rather special masterclass – ‘The Freedom of the One-Off’. Joe has had a busy time recently – being represented by Bullseye Projects at Collect in February, chosen as Maker of the Week by the Crafts Council shortly afterwards, and then having a piece acquired by the V&A Museum for their Glass Gallery. So we were extremely excited to have Joe here to show students the techniques and methodology involved in his beautiful geologically inspired kiln cast pieces. As Joe says, ‘the main principle within my work is to create a sense of progression and evolution within a solid permanent form’. Students were challenged on the first morning to create ten quick and spontaneous creative forms in clay, without too much thought of the process involved. The aim was to ‘free up’ the mind and creativity, without being hindered by thoughts of how the pieces would be cast or moulds made! Following this we were encouraged to explore materials such as clay, sand, and found objects to make an open cast piece. Joe showed us how to explore the properties and physicality of these materials, such as heating clay and manipulating until it cracks, or pouring wax onto clay, combining and experimenting with possibilities. These were cast up into moulds, and loaded with glass for the day’s first firing!

The next day we were treated to a presentation of images of Joe’s work and the progression he has made over the last 20 years working in glass. Joe began with a degree in Ceramics and Glass, making ceramic pieces, but soon realised that glass was the medium he was drawn towards. It was interesting to see Joe’s progression though his glass pieces, as the scale increased as well as the distinctiveness of his ‘geological’ style which evolved as he came to use ice as a material. The ice is eroded and sculpted with salt then cast into glass, capturing a moment in time as the ice is melting. This thawing of ice provides a physical time frame to work within, heightening the importance of artistic judgment and decision-making. The day’s task for students was to work on an ice piece. Blocks of ice were chosen from the freezer and then students set about carving, eroding and melting to achieve a piece which would be cast into glass. There were some challenges in controlling the form and maintaining the integrity of the mould whilst the ice is melting, but everyone achieved the task and began to think about what colours etc they would use for casting. Ice as a modelling material certainly opened up many opportunities for working in new and exciting ways. A delicious meal in the evening contributed to a general feeling of well-being!

The third day began with another approach to mould making, exploring a ‘mosaic’ of modelling materials to achieve new juxtapositions of form. Joe showed student how to cut up cast pieces of plaster, clay and ice to reassemble with sand, creating the positive form which was then covered in refractory mould mix to create a casting mould. He then led a discussion of cold-working techniques, such an important part of Joe’s practice, but something difficult to achieve with limited equipment. Joe kindly offered many tips and tricks for working on pieces with a limited budget for equipment, and everyone felt that there were new possibilities for achieving some finishing at home in the future. We then had the opportunity to get the first pieces out of the kiln, which seemed to have been made eons ago! There was excitement as pieces were assessed and discussions had as to how pieces could be changed or improved in the future. Before long students were rushing to finish off the day’s mould making before finally departing, fired up with enthusiasm for the new directions and inspirations which they had discovered. Once again Joe proved to be a considerate, knowledgeable and motivating tutor, generous in the information he gave to everyone, and expert in his awareness and understanding of glass as a material. We’re looking forward to the next time already!

Helga Watkins-Baker


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