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Glass artist’s port of call for Scientific Glassblowers


Jun 16, 2017

University of Sunderland graduate Dr Ayako Tani is searching for Wearside-based scientific glassblowers from the 1970s and 1980s to help support her latest project.

Ten years on from the closure of the Pyrex factory in Millfield, Dr Tani is putting a call out to local scientific glassblowers for the memories that helped make the city famous for its glass industry. The research will support the planning of a major exhibition of glass ships in bottles, which will coincide with the arrival of the Tall Ships to Sunderland next year.

Dr Tani, who was awarded a PhD from the University of Sunderland in 2014 for her research into the art of glass, began her freelance artist practice in 2015 with support from the University’s business support hatchery, The Enterprise Place.

She regularly exhibits at an international level and her work has been collected by prestigious museums in the UK and overseas. Currently, she is an artist in residence at National Glass Centre preparing for her exhibition project, which has also received Arts Council Funding.

Originally from Tokyo, Dr Tani’s interest in the history of glass art in Sunderland led her to begin researching glass ships in bottles and collecting as many examples of them as she could find.

She has begun practising the skill of creating the specialist gifts with Brian Jones, a scientific glassblower who worked for Sunderland-based glass making factory, Corning, which closed in 2007 with the decline of the industry. Brian, who was this month honoured with an MBE ‘For Services to Glassblowing’, now has a studio at National Glass Centre where he is one of the longest standing tenants and passes on his knowledge and experience to other budding glass artists.

Speaking about the project, Ayako said: “The production of glass ships in bottles was strongly related to the tradition of scientific glassblowing. I think it is vitally important to capture the recollections and experience of the skilled people who produced such wonderful work in its different forms.

“The success of the glass ships in bottles in the 1980s was not only significant for the socio-economic history of the region but also very important for the glass artists today because we benefit from the techniques kept through this creative industry.”

Ayako added: “I have loved being here in Sunderland and learning as much as I can about its proud heritage of glass, which goes back many hundreds of years. It would be great to think that bringing together the memories about glass ships in bottles might add another dimension to its rich glass history and assist in the rekindling.”

If you know of a Sunderland-based glassblower who made glass ships in bottles contact Dr Tani at National Glass Centre on 0191 515 5555.

By Emily