A day in the life at a Yorkshire glasssblowing studio
PUBLISHED: 09:17 23 September 2020
A studio in Rosedale Abbey is the happy heart of a thriving glassblowing partnership
Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones have been making contemporary hand- blown glass together for 25 years. From their studio and workshop in the picture postcard village of Rosedale Abbey in the North York Moors National Park, they use traditional methods to create individual pieces that earn worldwide recognition. As partners both in life and art, Kate and Stephen have created a unique lifestyle inspired by the natural rhythms and beautiful scenery of their rural location.
We live just a few doors away from the studio buildings which date back to 1827 and were previously the village blacksmiths. Stephen gets up early to light the kneeling oven and glory hole which take an hour or so to get up to temperature. He sorts out the work from the day before and then comes back home for breakfast. One or other of us does the school run for our son, Fin, then I head to the workshop for around 9am, Stephen a little while later.
We have a chat about anything that needs attention and discuss plans for the day ahead and longer term projects and commitments, before Stephen heads off to create the glass. Basically, Stephen blows and colours the glass while I am in the studio office, then once the glass is cold I do the engraving. We each have very separate roles which is how it’s worked so well for so long.
We met at Stourbridge College of Art, in the historic centre of British glass-making, where Stephen was learning the technical skills of glass making and I was studying Fine Art. I then spent a year learning to adapt my visual skill to the design and decoration of glass at the International Glass Centre in Dudley. Stephen went on to Wolverhampton University before working in the hotshop at the Glass Museum in Ebeltoft in Denmark. Family eventually brought us to Rosedale Abbey and we have been here ever since.
When the studio is open to the public I can be dealing with walk-in customers or enquiries over the phone, and when it’s quiet I use a corner of the office to work on smaller pieces, engraving designs on to Stephen’s creations. Stephen might break off for a coffee and a snack around midday but most of the time we both work through. Stephen is blowing Monday to Thursday, using traditional methods that are practised by only a few glass makers around the world. This process involves the folding of different coloured glass bubbles over each other to produce a complex multi-layered and coloured piece. It’s a very slow, labour intensive method dating back to before the industrial revolution and uses skills acquired over many years.
In the afternoon I sometimes take a half hour break for coffee just to get some head space, especially if it’s been a busy morning. We are often asked to do lectures and if we are working towards an exhibition everything in the office is put on hold and we both work flat out, focusing all our energy into the glass. When I want complete peace and quiet I head for our private studio and work on larger pieces. That’s when I become completely absorbed. The environment is ideal for what we do. Few people know that Rosedale actually has a long history of glass, dating back to the late 1500s when French Huguenots worked a furnace in the dale. The original glass furnace can be seen at the Ryedale Folk Museum.
By late afternoon things are starting to wind down. We usually make around 10-12 pieces a day which are sold privately or through our small gallery. I think visitors like the fact that we complement each other’s skills. Once the glass has cooled I follow Stephen’s beautiful work by etching my designs into the glass, which takes away layers of colour to let the light come in. That’s when the magic happens. I used to be really apprehensive about working on glass Stephen had taken so long to create, but I realised it was hindering my own creativity and I learned to be more relaxed. The most beautiful aspect of this is when everything comes together and results in something really special. Working with glass is the antithesis of boring. We never tire of it.
Stephen usually heads home after 4pm and one of us does the school run. I close the shop and then head home. Sometimes I’ll spend a bit more time in the studio but then it’s time for the evening meal and unwinding. We find it very easy to switch off.
We can walk straight out into countryside and walk every day because we have a field spaniel called Ollie who needs plenty of exercise. Much of our work is inspired by the shapes, colour, textures and beauty found in the landscape around us.
It’s a rare day when we return from a walk without an idea or nugget of inspiration for the next piece… u