National Glass Centre

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Last Saturday, while we were up in Sunderland, we decided to visit the National Glass Centre at Monkwearmouth, just outside the city centre on the north bank of the River Wearon the site of a former shipyard.

Glass making was an important industry in Sunderland from 674 AD, reaching its height of production in the mid-19th century. But the industry declined in the latter decades of the 20th Century and with the last two remaining glass firms in Sunderland – Corning Glass Works and Arc International  closing in 2007.

The National Glass Centre, which is part of the University of Sunderland, builds on this heritage. It is

dedicated to continuing the legacy of glass making, supporting and nurturing new glassmaking talent through The University of Sunderland’s Glass and Ceramics Degree Programme and fostering an enthusiasm and understanding of the material through a rich and varied exhibitions and learning and participation programme. (National Glass Centre website)

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Although principally devoted to teaching, there’s a visitor centre which is one f the major tourist attractions in Sunderland.There’s a permanent exhibition about the history  of glassmaking in Sunderland, space for temporary exhibitions, glassblowing demonstrations and, as well as the obligatory cafe and shop. As well as teaching full time students, the Centre runs courses, family activities and “glassblowing experiences” for the general public.

It also produces specialist glass, some of which was used in the restoration of Windsor Castle and the Albert Memorial (Guardian)

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The building, designed by Gollifer Langston Architects,has a glass roof made of 6 cm thick glass, strong enough to support  the weight of up to 460 people who can stand on the glass and and look down into the centre below.

The building was designed to emerge from the land rather than imposing upon it. Upon entering on the first floor and looking at the building from the road access, all that is visible are the canopies, twin ventilation towers and chimneys of the factory. (Source)

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We watched a glass goblet being made during the glass blowing demonstartion when one of the two glassblowers gave a running commentary on the process

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These take place several times per day, but the glass blowers are working throughout the day and visitors are welcome to watch them.

There were two temporary exhibitions

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – New Works by Andrew Miller where the works were produced using glass “found objects” from charity shops

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and an exhibition of original works from the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, produced by their Artists in Residence.

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There were also some interesting contemporary pieces on sale in the shop, although they weren’t cheap. These are some of the pieces I particularly liked.

A handmade Venetian glass vase by Studio Salvadore

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Two of the three pieces by Yoshiko Okada

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