Terry Grimley discovers what it takes to become resident glass artist at the heart of the industry.
Charlotte Hughes-Martin took a roundabout route to become the resident glass artist at Stourbridge’s Red House Glass Cone.
Having initially trained in Sunderland and worked there for a while, she moved to the US to do a masters degree at Ohio State University.
“I moved from America to be in Stourbridge,” she says. “People find that surprising, but it’s a fantastic place for glass. In the UK there are basically three places you can be – Sunderland, here or London. She is now preparing to take part in the town’s International Festivalo of Glass.
“Pretty much everything I would want as a glass person is available within a mile. It’s a glass mecca – the festival is happening at the end of my street!”
Charlotte finds that having a studio adjoining the giant Red House Cone, Stourbridge’s last remaining industrial glass cone, an inspiration even though her quirky and playful work is very different from that which used to be fired in it when this was part of the Stuart Crystal factory.
“It’s always going to have that ‘is it craft or is it art?’ thing, though I do actually have a masters in fine art. But I think glass is now becoming known more as a sculptural medium,” says Charlotte.
“A certain kind of person works in glass. You have to be quite tenacious because it takes a long time to learn, and it takes a long time to make the pieces.
“It’s a really weird mix, because you’re working with something that is not only both a liquid and a solid but is totally see-through.”
At this year’s festival, Charlotte features in the exhibition Made in Glass 2010 at the Red House Cone. It consists of eight international collaborations, and Charlotte was paired with Lachezar Dochev from Bulgaria.
She explains: “We chatted by email and then I had to go and pick him up from Digbeth Coach Station. He was living in my house for ten days, and it was quite an intense period of activity.”
The major piece they planned together was a glass table, but as it is in the nature of glass-making that you have to spend time waiting for parts to cool down, they also took the opportunity to make several smaller and more spontaneous pieces.
“I’ve never done a major collaboration before. It was quite bizarre – having two people, it seemed like there was a third. I think it has definitely contributed to my work.”
Charlotte feels that while potential British customers may be more easily put off by prices than their American counterparts, a viable market for contemporary studio glass does now exist in the UK.
“You can make a living at it. It takes a while to get yourself established and you may have to do other things like teaching, but there is the work out there.
“And because there are fewer people doing it here than in America, it’s easier to become known.”
* Made in Glass 2010 is at the Red House Cone from Friday until September 26, daily 10am-5pm