Looking back on Melting Pot: Hot Glass Gathering
Last year Arts University Plymouth hosted ‘Melting Pot: Hot Glass Gathering’ as part of the UK’s national celebrations for the United Nations-designated International Year of Glass and as part of Crafts Council’s Make! Craft! Live! 50th anniversary season. Beginners and professionals in glass, as well as members of the public, were invited onto our campus to experience the drama and beauty of hot glass, blown in real time by some of the world’s leading glass artists.
Organised and curated by Gayle Matthias, artist and Arts University Plymouth Course Leader for BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices, ‘Melting Pot’ brought together live-streamed hot-glass demonstrations and lectures, in person and remotely, with some of the most exciting artists working in glass today. Featured artists and studios included Elliot Walker, UK-based winner of the Netflix series 'Blown Away', Wave Glass in Murano, Italy and the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Susan Purser Hope, Chair of the Contemporary Glass Society, said: “It was really good to see such a diversity of events taking place as part of Melting Pot, to have an opportunity to see the facilities at Arts University Plymouth and to talk to some of the students and members of the public who visited. We’re very glad to have had this opportunity for the Contemporary Glass Society and Arts University Plymouth to work together and hope that this is the start of many more similar events.”
Gayle Matthias said: “Arts University Plymouth is one of the few remaining universities in the UK where glassblowing techniques can be studied. We were proud to join a global programme of activities for the UN International Year of Glass that includes congresses, industrial fairs, artistic exhibitions and books designed to highlight and celebrate glass technologies' significant contribution to advancements in the arts and sciences. This has been a very exciting opportunity to open our doors and show off some of the drama and beauty of this mesmerising art form.”
“The driving idea behind Melting Pot was to expand the horizons of our students, both by helping them to build networks with their peers and professionals working with glass, and also to facilitate the transfer of knowledge. Live streaming glass demonstrations and workshops into and out of Arts University Plymouth to glass studios across the world was technologically simple but pedagogically unique, creating a platform where experts in other studios could teach our students in real-time. ‘Melting Pot’ was an extension of work that I’ve done as part of the Glass Virus educational strategy think tank in Amsterdam, which is where I first met colleagues in Rietveld Academie.”
“In the months that have passed since the event, it has been so exciting to see how students have built on the connections that they made. Nathan Soper, who was in the first year of his undergraduate degree at the time, built a relationship with Elliot Walker and has since assisted him in his workshop in the West Midlands, which was invaluable for him in developing expertise and technical skills from a master in his field. Nathan’s unique background serving in the military for over seven years, including four with the Royal Marines, led to him being profiled by the BBC and ITV for his work. This is excellent profiling for an emerging artist.”
Arts University Plymouth’s hot glass workshops and Plymouth Art Cinema at Arts University Plymouth acted as the hub for a variety of activities, including hot-glass demonstrations by Elliott Walker, Bethany Wood, Andrew Collins and Laura Quinn, as well as live-streamed demonstrations from international glass partners in the Netherlands and Italy, including Arts University Plymouth graduate Benjamin Lintell.
‘Melting Pot’ also featured regional collaborations in England with the Contemporary Glass Society (which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2022), Rhizome (an artist collective which includes Arts University Plymouth alumni), Cornwall Ceramics and Glass Group, and Teign Valley Glass in Devon. Teign Valley Glass opened its studio doors for the weekend to a wide range of glassblowers, who demonstrated their skills in-situ and via a live streaming link to Arts University Plymouth.
Nathan Soper, now a second-year student on BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices said, “‘Melting Pot’ was so good. One day I’m smashing the whole series of ‘Blown Away’, the next I’m assisting Elliot Walker in a hot shop. That was my favourite part and so reassuring and validating to know I can do this. The assistant is just as important as the guy on the bench, I mean, you’ve seen the size of the pieces we were making!“
Third-year BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices student Zeynep Korun, from Turkey, said: “Melting Pot was a wonderful event where I was able to meet some very talented glass artists and have a glimpse at how they work up close. I haven't attended anything like this before, so it was quite exciting for me. Melting Pot offered an exceptional opportunity for me to introduce myself to top names in the glass community and since this is a community where many glass makers know each other, this event was a great start for me to become a part of it.”
Since ‘Melting Pot’ last year, Arts University Plymouth has installed a cutting-edge electrical furnace in the hot glass studios, replacing the previous gas furnace. This new furnace, the first of its kind in an educational institution in the UK, will reduce the annual energy consumption of the renowned hot glass studios by up to 80% in comparison to previous hot-glass blowing methods. It is forecasted to reduce the carbon footprint from hot glass at Arts University Plymouth by over 39 tonnes a year.
Make! Craft! Live! was a season of nationwide exhibitions, learning events, fairs, and digital activities that celebrated the value of craft to empower, enrich and connect our society. Running from October 2021 to October 2022, this marked 50 years of the Crafts Council and was delivered through craft activities which took place at venues across the UK including craft studios, museums, galleries, schools and community centres.