There’s lots of weird and wonderful things happening in our Northern Lights building. Around every corner are makers, creators, and innovators – masters in their own unique crafts. If you wander in and head to the studios on the right, you’ll find one of the most interesting and unique crafts involving intense heat, clouds of smoke, and maybe a fireball or two!
This is Liverpool Bay Hotshop and the studio of John Fenn. John is a glassblower and glass artist who uses a mixture of traditional and contemporary techniques to make pieces of Art Glass. We spoke to John about his techniques, his inspiration and how he entered into this unique craft.
Glassblowing is an interesting career to be working in! How did you get into it?
I was bored one summer school holiday in the Peak District and decided to look for treasure. I found some old ceramic pots and glass bottles, but it was the glass that totally fascinated me! I did my arts degree foundation course at my local Polytechnic and the college had a Hot Shop attached to the sculpture department. Once I found that, I spent most of the course learning how to blow glass.
How long have you been glassblowing?
I started in 1977. After completing my foundation course, I went to Stourbridge College of Technology & Art and graduated with a degree in 3D Design, glass with ceramics. I then studied traditional glassblowing techniques at The Glass Center in Brierley Hill for a year, before getting my first job glassblowing at an art college. Unfortunately I had to give up in 1984 after suffering the effects of lead poisoning. I didn’t come back to it until 2019.
Sounds awful, John. What made you come back?
It was a hobby as part of my birthday celebrations. I was given gift vouchers for that year but in 2020 all the glassblowing courses I had booked were cancelled due to COVID-19 so I decided to set up my own glassblowing studio.
Are you still learning new things?
Yes, there is always something new to try and techniques to learn! It’s a continual process.
Of course. Tell us about your process.
I’m a beekeeper and I infuse the honey from my native Welsh Black bees into my glass. I also infuse sauces into my glass. I like to experiment with the medium, the possibilities are endless. It’s such a creative and colourful medium.
What’s a day in the life like for a glassblower?
Each day is an early start, 4am on course days and 6am on glassblowing days. It takes approximately 3-4 hours for the glass to melt, then it’s glassblowing for the next 10 hours until most of the glass in the furnace pot has been used. There is a massive amount of preparation to be done each day, cleaning and tidying the studio, sterilising the glassblowing equipment, maintaining the furnace and sorting through the used glass for recycling. There is never a spare moment when I’m not busy! It’s usually after 11pm when I get back home.
What would your advice be to a person interested in starting glass blowing as a career or hobby?
It’s really tough to get started and even tougher to get established! Most glassblowers complete a degree course where glass is the main subject. Advances in furnace technology mean that you can purchase a small glass melting furnace, so some people do it from home. You can also learn how to blow glass on a glassblowing course. I run half-day taster courses and full day beginner’s courses. The studio is also available for hire. It usually takes several years of practising before you become proficient which is why a lot of people like to make glass as a hobby. It looks easy but it’s not!
What inspires you to get creative?
Nature, conservationism, beekeeping, and the endless possibilities of the medium itself! At the moment I’m producing a new body of work that is inspired by global warming, mankind’s impact on the natural environment and how our oceans are affected by pollution. Making work for exhibitions is also a driving force that motivates my creativity. Several pieces of my honey infused glass were selected for the ‘Reflecting Diversity’ exhibition held last Autumn in Seattle, part of Refract, Seattle’s annual glassblowing festival.
That’s great, congratulations! So, where can people find your work?
My work is available at the studio in the gallery viewing area, at MerseyMade and on my online shop. If people are interested, they can visit the studio to watch or even book onto my courses to have a go themselves. I’ve exhibited my work in The Contemporary Glass Society Summer and Autumn exhibitions which are available to view online. From March, my work will be available at Oriel Glasfryn, a new Gallery opening in North Wales and a collection of my honey-infused glass will be showing in the FLOW Exhibition, at Craft in The Bay in Cardiff, from 2nd April until 29th May, celebrating 2022 as the UN designated International Year of Glass.