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A Glass Act

During our first lockdown my middle daughter discovered a series about glass blowing on Netflix and thought I might like to watch it. We watched it together and we were both completely captivated. I love creative competitions – The Great British Bake-Off, the Great British Sewing Bee, The Great Pottery Throw Down so it wasn’t a huge stretch to imagine that I would enjoy one about glass blowing. However, I was unprepared for just how much I enjoyed it. It literally blew me away.

I’m a pretty creative person in that I love creating beautiful things, wrapping presents imaginatively, calligraphy and designing things by hand. I can sew reasonably well, cook reasonably well, have done a bit of pottery and even ceramics, but I freely admit that I am too exacting, too much of a perfectionist and too self-conscious, so I’ll never be a true artist. I think I may have made a half decent architect because my forte lies in precision. I enjoy sitting with a pencil, paper and ruler and figuring out ways to reconfigure rooms for example. The other problem is that I have little patience if I can’t get the hang of something fairly quickly, and, unfortunately, that sort of precludes the arts, where patience, persistence and constantly being prepared for something not to work out the way you intended or imagined are essential attributes. However, I was brought up in a family that appreciated art in all its forms, and perhaps not being a natural artist myself makes me appreciate those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of art all the more. I feel humbled by, and in awe of those who create beautiful paintings, sculptures, textiles, ceramics or jewellery, and I feel privileged when I am in a position to buy their creations.

I like all forms of art but I have always been particularly drawn to glass, ever since I had marbles as a child. I was fascinated by the swirls within the marbles and how they got in there. I also loved perfume bottles and ink bottles. There was something alluring about them. I remember visiting Venice when I was around eleven and seeing the shop windows with their incredible displays of glass in all shapes and forms. My Dad bought me a tiny set of three cats that I admired in one of the shops and I kept them in a wooden display case that a friend of my parents brought me from Mexico. It was made up of lots of cubby holes and had miniature Mexican objects in some of them – a tiny pottery jug, a teacup and saucer, a sombrero, a tiny poncho. The idea was that I could collect other miniatures to fill the empty spaces. So, my miniature cats had pride of place in three of them. Later I got a tiny perfume bottle, a teeny brass box and various other items.

Lalique limited edition nude

But the lure of glass remained with me and when I was able to, I started buying it myself, generally in Italy on holiday – sculptural objects by Murano, mainly animals, bowls, vases, even light shades. I carted them all back home in my hand luggage. I also picked up pieces at auctions, in antique shops and junk shops, at car boot sales and flea markets. Because my husband and family knew I loved glass, I often got gifts of pieces too. My last purchase was a small, amber, figure of a nude, a Lalique limited edition, that I found in a little, local antique shop a year ago. It wasn’t expensive and, being one of a limited edition, it’s not unique, but I just liked it. At some point when we’re no longer paying a mortgage and have all our children educated, I will invest in an extra special, original piece though there are so many talented glass-blowers out there that it may be an impossible task to choose one.

On holiday in the Dordogne a few years ago, we visited the studio and shop of a glass-blower and I finally got to really appreciate the endless possibilities of glass and the extraordinary skill involved in creating beautiful glass artworks. I was so overwhelmed that I actually couldn’t buy anything except a load of marbles in various sizes. I was surrounded by sculptures and objects, one more exquisite than the next, in colours that were mesmerising and magical. I meant to return but I haven’t yet. Glass-blowing is a difficult, strenuous labour of love. The artist almost fights with his/her medium but when it is finally tamed and compliant, virtually anything can be achieved.

I haven’t bought any glass in a while simply because I don’t have the space to properly display even the objects that I already have. The thing about a piece of glass art is that it generally needs space, a white background and proper lighting so as one can fully appreciate the depth and complexities of colours . Whereas paintings can contrast and complement each another on a wall, a piece of glass is a more solitary art form, or at least that's my opinion.

Blown Away is now in its second series on Netflix. Being a Canadian production, it is less about the dramatics than most American competition shows and more about the honesty of the creative process. The art of glass blowing is so dramatic and exhilarating in its own right that most of the interest in the show is in watching the actual processes. There is no need for any extra intrigue or contestant back-biting that has become the norm on many competitive shows.

Last night we watched the entire second series with two of our daughters. One has just started work. She had said she wanted to buy something meaningful with her first paycheck and had been considering what she might like. At one point during the show, she announced that she could think of nothing better than a piece of beautiful glass art. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is. Do yourself a favour and watch it.