Visiting Teign Valley Glass
PUBLISHED: 12:32 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:32 28 November 2016
Catherine Courtenay feels the heat of the furnace on a visit to Teign Valley Glass
To be creatively, emotionally or mentally refreshed, it’s a good idea to embark on an activity which will awaken the senses. A hike across Dartmoor on a blustery day; plunging into the waves at Woolacombe; or perhaps a wander through a flower-filled garden. They’re all activities which help restore spirits and also reconnect us to the natural world. But what about glass making?
Devon Life was invited to visit the refurbished Teign Valley Glass at Bovey Tracey and, along with a tour of the improved glassworks, there was also an opportunity for some hands-on glassmaking with its appropriately named lead designer, Richard Glass.
After getting over the initial shock at making said glasswork in front of an audience (the site is open to members of the public who can stand behind a counter and watch the team at work), a fascination with the art took over. Being in close proximity to the furnace and to see the molten glass twisted and shaped just inches away from you was an intense, sensory experience.
Over the course of an hour or so, Richard took us through the process of making one of his Wave glass sculptures. He created; we watched. Then roles were reversed.
These Wave and Splash pieces have become synonymous with Teign Valley Glass. The glass bends and flows, a mix of colours weaving their way through the material and because of its fluidity and natural movement, every piece is different.
Richard takes inspiration from the natural landscape around him; a sweep of autumnal moorland and cresting waves on the beach have clearly influenced his artworks, but it’s also the material itself that informs his work. As he states, “I aim to make glass that is elegant and not over-worked, with designs often born from my observations of hot glass, capturing the molten quality when cold.”
Glassmaking can be heavy work, lifting and twisting the poles with their lumps of molten glass; and it takes some force to work the material, which loses flexibility as it cools. We used tools to lift, shape and cut into the glass, all the time keeping an eye on how it was shifting and moving on the pole.
Richard and his colleagues, Paul Harris, Ben Batteson and Matthew Walsh live in a hot world. The furnaces reach temperatures of well over 1,000°C. Big doors opening to the outside courtyard brought a welcome rush of cool air, something you truly appreciate after spending a few minutes in close proximity to those furnaces. Feeling the heat on your face, hands and arms, then that warm summer breeze on your skin was wonderful, as was the cool glass of water I sipped from as we stopped afterwards to chat about the glassworks and its £140,000 refurbishment. Equipment which had been coming to the end of its life has been replaced with the whole premises updated and modernised to make a much more efficient and comfortable place for the Teign Valley team to work in. It also means the site has become popular with visiting glassmakers. During our glassmaking experience there were a couple of visiting artists who were using glass blowing methods to create large, spherical light fittings for a specialist retailer.
Likewise, Richard told me that he and his team travelled to glassworks throughout the country when building work was taking place at Bovey Tracey. I rather like the idea of itinerant glassmakers meeting and exchanging techniques and ideas.
Glassmaking certainly awakens the senses, in a very elemental way. Molten glass is both beautiful and awe inspiring, it really feels as if it has its own organic lifeforce, which is perhaps what Richard taps into when he’s creating his sculptures.
“I want to be engaged with each piece, and make decisions as I go,” he says. “The materials tell me when they’re ready.”
Teign Valley Glass was set up in Teignmouth in 1981 to make marbles for Devon company House of Marbles, using the specialist techniques of Victorian glassmakers. Experienced glassmakers from Whitefriars, Stuart Crystal and Dartington Crystal, among others, have since worked for the company and influenced its production.
Still under the umbrella of House of Marbles, it now exists in its own right, creating glassware which is sold in galleries and shops across the world. Along with its own studio work, it undertakes commissions from memorial pieces and trophies to large scale public artworks.