Scott Benefield and Andrea Spencer arrived from Belfast on a Sunday night and were whisked through the high hedges and darkness to Stowford farm where they would spend the next week teaching at The Glass Hub.
The following morning Scott introduced our group of six keen students to the types of glass cane they were going to be pulling over the week. The first day – simple “veiled” cane. Colours were chosen, cut and heated up in the top loaders, ready to be picked up. The ladders were laid out, doors closed for draughts and Scott demonstrated a few hot and perfect pulls. Then it was our students’ turn. The speed, accuracy and single-handed style of Scott is both unique and authentically a Murano style. This was certainly challenging for the group, but the day ended with bundles of coloured canes ready for day two.
So how do you go about rolling up, round, lively and separate canes into a uniform sheet that curls obediently into the required cylinder? Scott showed us exactly how by lining up the canes on the kiln shelf, he takes a measurement with the pie dividers and while this is being heated, gathers and forms a collar to suit. The glass on the kiln shelf is heated, turned, squeezed with paddles and on reaching the perfect temperate (good to roll but not to stick) the canes are rolled and brushed clean before being blown into a beautiful black and white cane cup.
The rest of the day was spent learning not just the art of blowing out the cup, but also how to work as a team, communicating well and getting the necessary precision of timings.
Scott lines up seven white canes on the ribbed pastorelli and picks them up on one side of a large gather. He proceeds to heat and pull out the loveliest length of flat cane Piatina or “pin stripe” as he called it. Next pick-up is an evenly spaced roll of canes that is twisted to form the “Rete” cane and finally before the students got started, Scott demonstrates the gorgeous Ballotini cane, where the twist appeared looped like stitches inside.
Now students practiced some of these cane-pulling techniques to build up a library of canes. Only a short break for Scott, until the smell of roast lamb and curry permeates the hot shop as we prepare food for the evening’s demonstration. All of us enjoyed the most incredible demo’ by Scott that evening, assisted by Andrea, Katie Huskie and Emma Baker. James Devereux was on door duty only, as Scott produced a stunning incalmo platter with lip wrap and pinstripes.
We were joined by students from a range of backgrounds including skilled production blowers from Bristol Blue together with our own foundation students and more! After Scott, Dave from Bristol Blue got onto the bench and made a sword, then a wine glass, finishing off the evening of glass, food and wine with laughter and glass drama.
Scott starts the day with a demo’ of delicate cane pulling in blues, making a curvaceous hour glass shape. He was assisted by Ben, a recent graduate from Plymouth, who kindly stepped into Andrea’s place as she started her own “Form to Fuse” masterclass next door. A black, clear and pinstripe (Striche and Piatina) vase was created to inspire the group in the potentials of the technique. Students then pulled and blew as they entered the last furlong of the course, galloping towards the speed, fluidity and finesse shown by the master – Scott. The energy was intense, concentrated and focused with students finding their feet on the cane ladders, that were, literally, strewn across the floor for the pull.
Our final day and final demo as Scott shows us his system of making cane in a production style. A long tube of cane is cut into several sections and held in the kiln until required. Scott then blew up a beautiful vase to finish off his time in the bench as students got their final piece and pulls done. It was awe-inspiring how far the students had progressed and how much they absorbed of these incredible techniques originating in Venice centuries ago, crossed to America, discovered by Scott and now brought here from the shores of Northern Ireland. A brilliant week and a good end to our Northern Irish Masters’ classes. No doubt these skills will be spreading through Scotland and England in the years to come, keeping these ancient and important techniques really alive.