Katharine Coleman MBE: Guild Spring Lecture 2015

“ A Future for Glass Engraving”

Katharine began her talk by introducing and welcoming some guests who had come for the talk and the opening of the Gravur on Tour exhibition: Mare Saare (Head of Glass at the University of Tallinn, Estonia), Heikko Schulze-Höing (Museum of Glass, Gernheim – which has a glass cone like Stourbridge) and Norbert Kalthoff (Journalist and engraver).


The main focus of my talk is glass engraving and its future in the UK. We start in Britain with a picture of Franz Josef Palme, working in a shed on the Thomas Webb Stourbridge factory site in 1882. Born in Steinschönau in Austro-Hungarian Bohemia  (now Kamenický Šenov in the Czech Republic).

Franz Josef Palme

Palme helped to give Stourbridge its reputation for the highest quality of glass engraving. At that time there were several hundred glass engravers in England, in Stourbridge, London, Newcastle and Edinburgh, many of them either Bohemian or taught by Bohemians. Palme probably learned his skills at the Steinschönau  glass school, the first of its kind in the world, founded in 1856. A few continue today to produce high quality engraving in Stourbridge.

Sadly though work produced there is largely reproduction, pastiche work, copying the early days of the 20th Century. The teaching of glass engraving was reduced to a watered down version of Bohemian style, thus it continues in its own little time bubble.

Detail from Stourbridge carafe

But it was not all doom and gloom for glass engraving elsewhere in Britain of the 1970s. New Zealander John Hutton, who decorated the new Coventry Cathedral windows with 8ft high angels, conceived his own technique with an angle grinder in 1962. Peter Dreiser, born in Cologne, was a pupil at the new post-War Rheinbach Glasfachschule – or glass school; he was taught by a refugee from Steinschönau. Coming to Britain in the late 1950s he worked in factories before going freelance and teaching – but teaching where? There were no glass schools in the UK; he had no academic qualification to teach in a university. Peter taught all comers at an ordinary Adult Evening College, Morley College in Lambeth, London. His greatest contribution to the future of glass engraving came with his book “Techniques of Glass Engraving”.

P Dreiser - The drowning of the innocents

Another peculiarly British form of glass engraving that has flourished in Britain from the 1960s onwards is point engraving, originally a Dutch technique, rediscovered and practised by Laurence Whistler and his son Simon. Interestingly this art form of Laurence’s inspired a professor of Glass at Tokyo Art University and spawned not only a small diamond tool industry but a serious hobby for art loving ladies. You can see some here in the Guild exhibition. Annabel Rathbone rediscovered line engraving, popular in Venice and Holland in the 16th and 17th Centuries and made this her own.

A Rathbone - Swan

Swiss engraving technique or Glasruitzen is a cruder form of the same. Alison Kinnaird learned glass engraving from Harold Gordon in his studio in the 1960s, not at a glass school.

By the 1970s not only was the British glass industry failing, but our education system was radically changing. Those few technical colleges, where engraving and other glass skills had been taught, were closing and becoming reinvented as universities. Such universities were lively places for glass, freshly inspired by the new Studio Glass Movement coming from America and Germany and from the start, these new glass departments ignored engraving entirely.

When Erwin Eisch met Harvey Littleton 1972, they fostered this wonderful revolution, Studio Glass, freeing up glassmaking from the factory into the studio, a movement whose repercussions are still felt today.

Eisch and Littleton in the 1970s

Like all great revolutions, innocent victims inevitably find themselves at the guillotine and it was unfortunately the glass engravers who were declared anathema, irrelevant anachronisms. This doctrine was taken totally to heart by the British glass establishment, lecturers and curators. It persists. There is no glass engraving element taught in any university glass department in Britain. The German and Czech glass industry and glass schools were strong enough to withstand and work with the studio glass movement. Engraving continues to be part of a holistic glass education programme there, spanning design, drawing, blowing, kiln work, flat glass and coldworking.

Of the 71 artists selected for the 2015 British Glass Biennale, only three are engravers. Further afield, only five of the 150 artists selected for the finals of the 2014 Coburg Glass Prize, were engravers. The latter is a more telling statistic, for that suggests the judgement of major European glass competition juries and it is more worrying.

What can be done to rectify this?

How can students choose to engrave glass when they seldom see inspiring, contemporary work? It’s up to us engravers to show our work and present our case to the younger generation and encourage them to try. Not necessarily to become practising glass engravers per se, but also to consider using glass engraving as an adjunct to their own glassmaking practice. Also, to persuade practising glass engravers who earn their living from humble commission work to think outside the box when it comes to making their own art work and make work that is more relevant to contemporary glass and inspiring.

We could encourage students to try engraving at the Frauenau and American summer schools and if they like it, apply to go on full time courses in Germany or the Czech Republic. We can perhaps sponsor the most promising students by fundraising in the Guild of Glass Engravers.

The Guild of Glass Engravers was founded in 1975 to support and promote good glass engraving wherever it could. This it did in a fervour of excitement with existing glass engravers, the Whistlers, Alison Kinnaird, Peter Dreiser, Tracey Sheppard and David Peace to name a very few of the early members.

For those who do not know the work of members of the Guild, search on the Gallery of Members for images of some recent and some current members’ work: James Denison-Pender, Alison Kinnaird, Tracey Sheppard, Nancy Sutcliffe, Gill Mannings Cox, Charmian Mocatta, Peter Furlonger and Nicholas Rutherford.

 A Kinnaird - Tryptich

I have been a member since 1985. My own work is focused on glass as a material, the use of colour overlay and the relevance of copper wheel engraving even today. Outside the Guild but of international interest are Ronald Pennell and Steven Newell. The Guild hosts ‘hands-on’ days alongside exhibitions and at Art in Action which are often very popular, but these alone do not reach out sufficiently to ensure the continuation of interest in glass engraving.

The late Professor Jiři Harcuba did his utmost to promote glass engraving, showing that it need not be bound up in historical pastiche, that one can achieve amazing results with diamond wheels on hard glass, freeing artists up to use kiln formed Bulls Eye glass and other non-lead glass, also to use glass for vitrography or glass printing.

 Jiri Harcuba

One of his most successful achievements was with Peter Rath of Lobmeyr and Helena Braunova of the Glass Museum at Kamenický Šenov to organise a triennial international glass engraving symposium. Six were held. I went to the second in 2002 and again in 2005 and 2008. The chance to spend a week talking with and seeing the work of some 150 other engravers from all over the world was thrilling. I had never seen much Czech engraving, let alone Russian, American, Australian. Sadly these symposia were discontinued for lack of funds after 2008.

In 2008 I gave a lunchtime lecture about contemporary glass engraving and its possibilities to the glass department at Edinburgh College of Art, little knowing that there was a student amongst them who would prove to be a promising future glass engraver. I was hugely impressed by Heather Gillespie’s determination to study glass (although she appeared to receive little support from her department) and encouraged her to apply for a grant to come to the 2008 Kamenický Šenov engraving symposium.

 H Gillespie

This was following the route taken by Jessamy Kelly and Claudia Phipps from the University of Sunderland some three years previously. Heather’s work caught the eye of Peter Rath of Lobmeyr, who gave her a year’s scholarship to study engraving at the Kamenický (Steinschönau) School and to work in his studio. She has enjoyed considerable success since then. She in turn encouraged Ainsley Francis from Canada and Juliana Bolaños-Durman from Costa Rica to help restore the lathes in the Edinburgh glass department and they have both settled in Edinburgh and continue to make excellent, experimental work. Ainsley also studied at the summer school in Pilchuck. That whole department had, after all, been founded by glass engraver Helen Munro-Turner and it was only after Studio Glass grew in prominence that glass engraving disappeared from the syllabus.

A Francis

Heather, Ainsley and Juli have together created a stir about glass engraving at Edinburgh and it is such small beginnings that may yield success in the UK. At last some staff and curators are taking note. Colleges now send students to my four day taster course at West Dean College, for some of whom there is 100% sponsorship from the Edward James Foundation. Every September I ask the staff at all British glass departments to seek out promising candidates and it is proving very popular. But a handful of swallows do not make a summer.

On the other side of the world, working on his own, is Australian Kevin Gordon, a very gifted engraver and cutter, son of British glass engravers Alasdair & Rish Gordon.

K Gordon

The University of Canberra has started to host the occasional glass engraving course and hopefully this will yield fruit with time.

In the States, April Surgent is both practising and teaching her own form of engraving. She started learning to engrave with Jiri Harcuba when she was only 14 years old and has developed since then her own techniques for diamond wheel engraving large fused sheets of Bulls Eye glass with images from her other passion, plate photography. These sheets are some 35cm or more high.

 A Surgent

Jiri Harcuba set up an engraving studio at the glass school at San Ildefonso de la Granja near Segovia and I enjoyed teaching there for a few years before the economic crisis put paid to employing foreign visiting staff.

Since 2008 I have been regularly invited to teach at Bildwerk Frauenau Summer Academy. The courses there are very well priced and accommodation is very cheap; the courses last some two and a half weeks for the same price as four days at West Dean. It is there that I have got to know Erwin Eisch, Bild-Werk’s founder, and the great founder of the Studio Glass Movement. He now accepts that engraving can be an acceptable part of this movement and readily suppports our efforts to teach engraving at Bild-Werk.

In 2012 engraver Wilhelm Vernim, Journalist Norbert Kalthoff and I were talking there about how sad it was to have no more international symposia and we agreed that we should start our own. We first begged meeting space off Bild-Werk for a weekend in September 2013, invited Helena Braunova to come from Kamenický Šenov and some 30 colleagues whom we knew had either expertise in web design, exhibition organising or symposia organising. It was a great success and we founded the Glass Engraving Network, an administered website that allows glass engravers from all over the world to freely make contact. The response has been amazing, over 800 contacts, all engravers. Here is Heraklio Vidal from Lima in Peru.

There was a small teaching symposium last September in Kamenicky Senov as well to plan the European
Touring exhibition and the great meeting of engravers in Frauenau, Germany to be held in September 2016.
Here is the work of some of the participants at the meetings and symposium. The work is by a cross section
of current European engravers, some masters and some young students embarking on their careers.
Many of these engravers work to commission on more conventional glass – Pavlina Cambalova for instance,
works in the production studio of Lobmeyr in Vienna. Some work is also by glass cutters who engrave.
If there is one field of glass practice that is even more ignored and disparaged in the UK, it is glass cutting.

The touring exhibition “Gravur on Tour” is moving from glass museum to glass museum around Europe over the next 18 months. At most stops there will be talks and demonstrations. For example, at Rheinbach Glasmuseum for the week before the show opens in October 2015, there will be a major parallel workshop with the students at the next door glass school and their work will also be shown alongside our small touring show.

We have been invited by the Finnish Glass Museum at Riihimaki to come and, in the words of the Director “Show the Finns that glass engraving isn’t just something nasty that the Swedes do.” For logistical reasons we had to limit the tour and participants to Europe on this our first enterprise. However, Amy Schwartz of Corning Museum Studio in America, is very interested in our plans to have a truly international exhibition and meeting at Corning sometime after 2018.

This effort is not in competition with or aiming to undermine the work of the Guild of Glass Engravers. It should be seen as an additional move alongside and in support of our common cause. Unless and until the rest of the modern glass world wakes up to the rich potential that engraving has to offer, the future of glass engraving is up to every one of us. Its survival is entirely our responsibility and, with the success so far, the future still looks bright.

K Coleman - Little bowl of sunshine

Little Bowl of Sunshine by Katharine Coleman, commissioned by Michael and Jenny Nathan for the 350th anniversary of the Glass Sellers Company.




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