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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Modern Japanese Design in Manchester

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While we were in Manchester on Monday we called into the City Art Gallery. The main exhibition showing at the moment – Matthew Darbyshire: An Exhibition for Modern Living – didn’t particularly inspire, but I enjoyed the display in the Design Gallery featuring modern works by Japanese artists and designers, and other works inspired by Japanese design.

Drawn from Manchester’s own collections, the show provides an overview of the past fifty years of Japanese design. It highlights the breadth of Manchester’s collections, bringing together fashion, furniture, lighting, ceramics, glass, metalwork and jewellery.

The exhibits illustrated the Zen like approach to design; simplicity and minimalism – there was no excessive ornamentation on display – care and extremely skilful craftsmanship.

These are some of the works I particularly liked, snapped on my mobile phone.

Hibiki (Echoes), 2015 A metal bowl by Takahiro Yede. with strips of metal woven like basketwork

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A number of metal vessels created by Alistair McCallum using a traditional Japanese metalworking technique – Makume Gane

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Mokume Gane is a traditional Japanese metalworking technique and has been practiced for over 300 years. The name Mokume Gane, when translated into English, means wood grain metal, this refers to the patterns traditionally produced in Japan. Mokume Gane is a time consuming technique and involves building a sandwich of different metals, normally silver, copper and copper alloys. These are joined together by fusion or silver solder. The number of layers varies, dependant on the desired pattern; Alistair uses between 5 and 128 layers dependant on the individual piece. The pattern can be achieved in two ways, either by twisting or by cutting through the layers to reveal their different colours. The resulting sheet can then be made into the finished piece. Finally, the piece is patinated to enhance and enrich the contracting colours of the different metals. Alistair believes that the technique is best used on simple shapes where the relationship of pattern and for balance and are in harmony.

Atmospheric Re-entry 2011. A couple of head-dresses by Maiko Takeda. The one on the right was worn by Bjork during her Biblophilia tour a couple of years ago (which included a performance at the Manchester International Festival that year).

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The following two pieces are by Ayako Tani who creates fragile vessels from glass rods. We’d seen some of her work before at the Wordsworth and Basho:Walking Poets exhibition at Dove Cottage in Grasmere last year.

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An interesting ceramic piece by Yasuko Sakurai who creates coral-like ceramic forms by hand, using a technique that she invented after studying slip casting in Limoges, France.

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A selection of pots by Edmund de Waal, very typical of his work

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The Rose Chair (1990) by Masanori Umeda

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The exhibition closes on 15 January.

Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana at the YSP

The current exhibition in the old Georgian chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park features the work of an Italian sister and brother, Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana, who hail from a Venetian glass dynasty going back generations. Working separately, they both create works using the material their family has worked with for generations – glass.

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The works are sympathetically displayed inside the chapel which is flooded with natural light.

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Laura’s works are created from blocks of glass and elongated and twisted shapes. The surface moulded, which reflect and refract the light producing interesting optical effects that change with the light in the room – the intensity and the direction from which it comes as the sun moves across the sky.

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She uses coloured glass, too – some of them with an intense colour like this intense purple piece – Nero CM Liquid Black (Purple) – that looks almost black, until viewed with the light source, one of the chapel windows, directly behind.

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This piece is positioned so that it is viewed as soon as visitors walk through the door into the chapel. DSC05648

The two windows bring light in at different angles and the staff told us that it’s appearance is transformed during the day as the sun moves and the direction, intensity and quality of the light changes

Alessandro’s approach is similar, but different. He manipulates thinner sheets of glass, producing interesting surface textures, many of the pieces with a silvered finish, amplifying and emphasising the reflections.

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His works are normally hung vertically on the walls of galleries

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but at the YSP some of the pieces are displayed horizontally, raised on a plinth standing on the floor, giving a different perspective to his work.

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I particularly liked this work, HS-YSP which, as the title implies, was created especially for the exhibition.

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IMy first employer, where I worked for 11 years, was a glass manufacturer and I’ve retained a fascination for the material so the exhibition was particularly interesting for me. I felt that the de Santillana had produced some wonderful abstract pieces with the magic material and that the YSP have done an exceptionally good job in displaying them. If get the chance I’d like to return for another visit. The light is bound to be different and I’d love to see how the appearance of the works is changed. But, in any case, even without that aspect they are interesting enough to warrant another look..

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