The Cambridge Glass Fair
three hundred years of collectable glass in one day
How and when did you start working with glass?
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1962, into a very artistic family, and I began painting on commission when I was still at school. However, it all changed one day in 1983, when I was captivated by an article in a South African craft magazine showing how a little flower had been "scratched" with a diamond point onto a drinking glass. I had not seen anything like it in my life. I had to know more!
Why did you decide to work with glass rather than any other medium?
I think the answer is there already. It is the most alluring and baffling medium. I feel as though I am painting, except that the glass is the canvas, and the different burrs are the different colours. You paint in grey scale, with all the shades and textures you can imagine, depending on which type of burr is used and the size, shape, grit, pressure; whether is it used wet or dry, and the speed of the drill. The burrs themselves change characteristics and effects as they wear, and then after all that, the lighting dictates how it looks. It is 3D, especially when you have engraved around a whole vessel.
Are there any particular periods or styles that inspire you more than others?
Oh, yes, especially nowadays. I absolutely adore Art Nouveau colour overlay crystal, such as was produced by Daum, Galle, Rousseau, Lalique. Now that I am in this country and can phone up my glass blower in London who will make, to my specifications, lead crystal overlay bowls for example, which I will cameo engrave (carve through the layers of colour to expose the colour(s) underneath). I have only been able to appreciate this in the last 4 years that I have been here. I am still pinching myself; it seems like a dream.
What are your inspirations?
Maybe you could ask: "Who are my inspirations?"..I am inspired by a number of great engravers who I had only read about before and whose books I had studied. My first book was Glass Engraving by Jonathan Matcham and Peter Dreiser. My second, which was more specific to my methods, was "Drill Techniques" by Stuart and Shirley Palmer. I have been most fortunate to have met both Shirley Palmer and Peter Dreiser. What amazing, dedicated, talented people, who will always be like idols to me.
Do you have any preferred subjects for your engraving?
As I have had to tackle just about every subject there is in the last 22 years, it is very difficult to say that any specific one is my favourite. I do love the freedom of nature, flowers and wildlife. Being in Africa, the big 5 and other wild animals were the most popular, then after a while it would be nice to have someone ask for a family crest for a change. I enjoy variety, I enjoy a challenge, and some customers most definitely give me that.
Which other artists have you worked with/alongside?
None. I have always worked alone on all creative aspects of my work. I cannot imagine any other way, as I am very independent and specific.
Are there any really special commissions that stand out in your mind?
My first big challenge stands out in my mind, when dear friends of mine asked me to hand engrave their 6 sliding doors which overlook the patio, swimming pool and tennis court at their fabulous home in Harare! I had only had my first big drill for a short time and still had so much to learn. It took months, and featured bamboo, mountains, birds and the sun, (which looks like the moon depending on the light). I was terrified, but they had loads of confidence in me. It helped me believe in myself and was a great lesson. After that I took on enormous design challenges in hotels and clubs in Harare: Aviators Arms at the Sheraton, The Beer Engine at the Best Western, Tipperaries nightclub, all of which involved a lot of research and design and many hours of hand engraving and sandblasting combined. The glass included doors, balustrades, windows, mirrors, and their promotional glassware for presentations, gifts prizes etc.
Do you have a favourite piece of work?
Yes. When I first arrived here, I did a weekend workshop at a college with tutors from the Guild of Glass Engravers, where for the first time I experienced cameo engraving, on a tiny piece of crystal overlay. This led to my first full lead crystal overlay bowl, on which I engraved waves and seagulls in a very free fashion all around it. I engraved it in the little dining room where I live, making an awful mess, (hats off to my partner Brian, for being so tolerant). I sold it for £600, and so began my new business in the UK. Engraving no longer takes place in the dining room as I have my workshop and showroom in an industrial park instead now?
Where have you exhibited your work? (Exhibitions, galleries etc)?
My first ever exhibition of my work was in the window of a little gallery/art shop, in Harare. Since then I have shown work at 3 of the Guild of Glass Engravers' national exhibitions.
Who are the blanks blown by?
I use crystal and glass from anywhere, but my favourite blowers are Gill Mannings-Cox in Cornwall, and Patrick Stern in London .
Do you collect anything?
Yes, I suppose I do now I am in this country. Recently I have purchased a magnificent blank goblet, which Laurence Whistler designed and had made by Whitefriars in 1960. It was one of only 6 of that style. It was part of the remaining blanks from the estate of the late Laurence Whistler and his son the late Simon Whistler who had followed in his father's footsteps as a superb engraver. I also have a goblet which Peter Dreiser engraved in 1970. A small piece of Galle completes my tiny little collection! .I have only been here 4 years and there is nothing much to collect in Zimbabwe! Otherwise I collect books on Glass Engraving and Art.
What are the best and worst aspects of being a glass engraver?
Depends which hat I have on. I do the day-to-day orders: name on a glass for a granny's birthday followed by some doves, ribbons and flowers on a couple of flutes for a wedding, then a quick golfer on a tankard for a competition held "tomorrow". Then there is the serious customer who wants a lead crystal Tudor bowl weighing 6kgs hand engraved with a continuous story of their lives including their home, their dogs, their hobbies, their holiday, in a collage held together with ribbons of music! I love it!
What are the best and worst aspects of being an exhibitor?
Well, the best part of being an exhibitor is being with people, talking, chatting laughing, seeing the interest and the admiration that they can have for my efforts. It can be very flattering. Then it does not matter if they do not buy,- they have had a lot of pleasure just looking. I see their expression, the one that I had the first time I held my little glass with a flower scratched on it.