Blown Studio Glass in Dartmouth
PUBLISHED: 11:38 24 April 2008 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013
Blown Studio Glass in Dartmouth is the only hot-glass workshop in the South Hams. It welcomes members of the public to watch the glass being worked.
Comparing something that will take your hand off without a moment's thought to the more erogenous areas of human existence might seem like a contradiction in terms, but there's no denying that the feel of glass beneath your hand is a very sensual experience. Ask any glassblower what attracts them to working with glass and you might get much the same answer: the sensuality of it. Perhaps it's that careful toeing of the line as you test the limits that evinces the comparison - the drawing out, the teasing into shape, the curvaceous plumping of the material, the fragile nature of the relationship and, without wishing to appear too chauvinistic, the ultimate knowledge that in the end it will pretty much do as it likes anyway, and be all the more appealing because of it.
More than an art form
Glassblowing is much more than an art form - once discovered, it is more a symbiosis. I've spoken to a few glass artists and found that invariably they've become involved via the same route, and Nick Orsler, who operates Blown Studio Glass in Dartmouth, is no exception. "I went to university in Leicester, doing a degree in industrial design. I actually trained as a silversmith and jeweller and, although I loved working with the fluidity of hot metal, I used to get frustrated both in assembling it and the fact that when working with precious metals you are naturally restricted to working on a very small scale, whereas my natural inclination is to make large objects. Then, in my third year, I discovered the glass department."
That discovery was to cause a sea change in the course of Nick's career. He went on to do an apprenticeship in London glassworks and later to work with Erwin Eisch in Germany, one of the most illustrious of contemporary glass artists, and travelled all over Europe taking in the best of contemporary glassmaking.
Returning to England, he set up a studio in the City of London but, 12 years later, rents went through the roof. So, having family in Devon (his wife comes from Slapton), he decided to move here to consider his options. "I was taking my daughter to the National Marine Aquarium one day, when we decided to visit Dartington Glass because I had heard they had a glass workshop there, but found that they had just closed it."
That was quite fortuitous for Nick because he put in an offer for the furnaces, which were about to be scrapped anyway, and consequently he was able to set up a workshop in Dartmouth at a fraction of the cost it would have been to buy new equipment.
See the work in the Smith Street Gallery
The work that Nick and his two assistants produce is sold at his gallery, Blown, in Smith Street, which deals exclusively in his own work. But Nick also supplies around 25 other galleries with examples of his work, including Hope Cove Gallery, Spinnakers in Crediton and The Lantic Gallery at Tiverton.
"What is it that inspires me? I think it's the physical challenge. I love the heat up there. It is a difficult question to answer because the inspiration for me is the final object. I have something clearly in mind and if I struggle to get there, then I will probably ditch it. The whole process is the inspiration, right from the minute you get the glass from the furnace to finally achieving what I had in mind... or not. It's the classic love-hate relationship... if you want to labour the original analogy further."
It might take Nick only an hour to produce a finished piece, but that hour will have been preceded by many more thinking about it, sketching a design, and colour checking with small maquette pieces. Invariably he starts work around 5am, a good few hours before his assistants come in, to iron out any potential problems for the day's work, and he works by the light of the furnaces only. Artificial light of any sort is avoided as much as possible during the whole process so that the true colours of the glass can be revealed.
"The work that you see in my studio is all the result of very painstaking design. And if something turns out exactly the way that I perceived it, then that is a very satisfying feeling. All too often the piece will take its own form, but that is the nature of working with glass. All of my work is produced completely on spec - even commissioned pieces. I might have an overall brief, but I make it clear to potential clients that I only make what I want to make."
Blown Studio Glass is the only hot-glass workshop in the South Hams and readily welcomes members of the public to watch the glass being worked. Nick is now offering one-day glassmaking courses, and details of these can be found on the website .
As for ambition, branching out into sand-cast and assembled work is a possibility, and working with life-size sculpture pieces would be the ideal, because that is how Nick Orsler started his journey in glass with Erwin Eisch, who was renowned for his life-size working. Until then, producing his stunningly unique, one-off creations will have to suffice.
If you are interested in visiting the studio at Unit 5, Collingwood Business Park, Dartmouth, call the gallery first on (01803) 835123.