The Art of Glassblowing at Messums

This was a welcome return to Messums Wiltshire, to the stunning setting of the largest Tythe barn in Europe. Johnny Messum kindly invited us back to host some of the finest glassblowers demonstrating their skills, as a finale to their 2019 Glass Festival. What an absolute delight to have such a setting to showcase the fine art of glassblowing. The line-up was set, tickets were sold, and thanks to the seamless organisation from Messums and Minimelt Glass, everything was in order, kit ready.

This year the two main exhibitors at Messums Glass Show “Material Light : Glass” were the legendary Dante Marioni from Seattle, and our own home grown Elliot Walker. Their shows opened in December and brought the subject of glass art to Wiltshire, exquisitely presented in the two Messums barns.

Seating was tiered, so viewing was perfect for the audience, which topped 120 people by the end of the day. Tickets were allocated per artist, but many grabbed the opportunity to buy day tickets with a lunch included. People had travelled from as far as the Highlands of Scotland (the Northlands Glass crew), and many a familiar face was there as we started the first show at 10am.

First up was David Barry from Bristol Blue, as he bravely took to the floor and effortlessly created a Swan Stem Goblet, Venetian style. With the help of Tyler Sheppard, and our amazing assistant James Devereux (only the country’s leading glassblower as an assistant that day!), Dave made this tricky three part assembly look easy and seamless. And with a bit of time left over, we also got to see a “ampholina” – small flask/pourer – with pincered decoration and a blown spout.

Next we welcomed one of the country’s top female glassblowers, Katherine Huskie. Katie gathered over a ruby pink colour bubble, and blew it out to a desired spherical form, and then covered the vessel with hot, fluid glass trails of molten glass, pinching and forming the ribs on this sea urchin inspired form, another addition to her “Echinus” series. She showed to the crowd the perfection of teamwork and timing, and together with Emma Baker and business partner James Devereux, this Huskie/Devereux team showed us why they are producing the country’s finest glassware from their Wiltshire studio. and

Lunch break allowed some time to heat up a tile of around 24 small square slices (Murrine) to then fuse together into a rectangular mosaic tile. It was the turn of Scott Benefield, from across the sea in Northern Ireland, where he runs his studio Benefield/Spencer Glass with partner Andrea Spencer. Scott blew out a colour bubble, cut it in two, and then put it away in the kiln, to add later. Next, he took his thin slices of “Murrine” (small slices of square glass he had made at home) and squeezed them together into a long tile, using a long heating fork called a “Pastorelli”, to heat in the Minimelt furnace. With an ease that only comes from decades of experience and practice, he rolled this rectangular tile up into a cylinder, sealed off the end and blew it up. He then joined one of the colour sections to this (“Incalmo”), then puntied and joined the other colour section to open up. Scott, assisted by James worked in complete unity and were an absolute joy to watch, relaxed and clam, and, as if rehearsed, they made an incredibly tricky piece look easy!

The crowd had steadily grown, not many seats were left, and many were standing as Elliot Walker took to the floor. Somewhat of a maverick in hot glass, and never one to repeat a piece, he chooses, always, a work of art he’s never tried before, and followers get to choose the theme… the idea of making a hat proved to be the most popular (apart from with those dealing in risk assessment!). Elliot started with a small flower, sculpted with hot glass. Then, a feather, made with some iridescent colour. Both these were held in the kiln, until Elliot and Bethany had blown out a shiny black bubble, then hand sculpted this quickly to a hat shape. It was then puntied, opened and the hat rim spun out. They then they added the feather and flower. It was a show stopping performance from Elliot, better than any magic show, and had us all on the edge of our seats……and as for the risk? Well, he pulled it off, or should we say “put it on”, as when it was finished (and still at around 600 ⁰C!) Elliot fitted it to the head of his most glamourous assistant Beth, who wore it for a good few seconds, (with the help of a kevlar beanie!).

The final act was from one of the most internationally acclaimed blown glass artist on the globe. Dante Marioni, from Seattle USA, is undoubtedly a world class artist, with an ability to create forms of beauty and elegance, pushing the limits of the procedural possibilities of glass, as he so naturally moves the glass around, with a familiarity that makes the observer feel he’s known it forever -which, in fact, he has. I first watched Dante demo at Pilchuck in 1991, and still get the same kick as a spectator today, as I did then. This was such a privilege for all of us to work beside him. Dante had pre-made some “cups” in his trademark “leaf” pattern, a complex mosaic of cane (latticino style), that had been rolled up (similar to the murrini process) and blown into a pointed egg form. Dante picked this preheated cup up and after careful marvering, gathered over it, blowing it out into an acorn shape, even though this was not the standard reticello design! The leaf form, was too long and delicate for our mobile furnace operation, both in terms of annealing and heating. So with sheer delight and a hush in the crowd, we all watched this artist make a one off “leaf pattern” acorn, a rounder and more suited shape for the Minimelt and the small kilns we had brought. It was a supreme finish to an amazing day, and an experience I will never forget. Many thanks to all the artists, and to Messums Wiltshire, who gave up their time to bring the British public this unique opportunity to see some of the best glassmakers work in the best setting possible.

Finally the Sunday brought yet another day of performance in glassblowing, this time, it was the public who showed off their skills, as The Glass Hub team taught beginners some bauble blowing, and allowed people to have a go themselves. This day was opened with a premier performance from local glassblower Emsie Sharp. She blew a beautiful decanter and several wine glasses, in front of a small crowd, displaying the skills she has developed over the years since setting up her studio in Dorset. Emsie trained at Farnham UCA, and also trained for several years on the island of Murano.

And so it ended……another year, another success, and some fabulous glassblowing observed by the public. Thanks to Messums Wiltshire for giving this ancient, yet also contemporary, and treasured art form a magnificent platform to stand on.

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About The Glass Hub

We are an educational centre based in South West England where students of all abilities can learn and develop the ancient craft of glassmaking. At The Glass Hub we provide extensive glass-working facilities alongside the support of an excellent, highly qualified and experienced team of tutors to foster individual creative growth and expertise.

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