Words by Travis Blake
A pioneer of British studio glass Peter Layton at The London Glassblowing Studios develops leading artists and creates stunning hand crafted pieces of glass art!
It’s that time of year, yes, the time for festive cheer, maybe a beer, something to share and the giving of gifts, peace and goodwill to all and each and every one of us. One of my fondest sensory experiences of Christmas time is the smell of a real Christmas tree, especially when you come downstairs in the morning and we have one in house every year. A big part of the fun and enjoyment is going out there and hunting down your tree at the “Magic Forest” having it cut down, mounted and whizzed through the netting machine much to my daughters’ amusement, a rite of passage if you like!
Once the tree is home it’s time to decorate it and every year we like to add something new to our tree, a year marker almost, a reminder of the passing of time, the difficulty is finding something both of quality and meaning amongst the never ending influx of cheap disposable environmentally destructive tat! Fear not, as this year I have found the truly wonderful and awe inspiring bespoke glass creations from Peter Layton at London Glassblowing!
Glassblowing as a technique for forming glass can be traced back to the 1st Century B.C and is thought to have been invented by Syrian craftsmen along the Palestinian coast and used to create glass that could be used for everyday tasks. The establishment of the Roman Empire enabled the manufacture of glass objects using the glassblowing technique to flourish and become widespread. Venice, known for its glassware today, was established as a centre for glass making in the Middle Ages and craft and art of glassblowing was popular as far as China and Japan.
Glassblowing developed fairly quickly from its invention and prior to the introduction of metal blowpipes Glassblowers used clay pipes to inflate the molten glass into a bubble and the artisan is known as a Gaffer or Glass-smith. There are essentially two prime methods of glassblowing which are free-blowing and mold-blowing. In the mold-blowing method the molten glass is inflated in a closed mold and the air is blown in, when the glass has hardened it is then worked out of the mold. The free-blowing technique, which is as the name suggests, introduced in the 1st Century, is held in high regard and is a method that is still very much in use today.
Peter Layton the renowned “Grand Master” of British Studio Glass discovered the art form of glassblowing whilst pursuing his career as a ceramics teacher in the United States in the mid-1960s. Peter was instrumental in moving glass from an industrial product through the transition to the highly collectable art work it is today. Peter’s influence, drive and spirit have been particularly prominent in giving British Studio Glass a U.K home.
Born in Prague in 1937, Peter Layton moved to Britain when his parents quickly fled from Czechoslovakia in 1939. Growing up in the North of England, in Bradford his love of art was encouraged and developed by his Grandfather, a pathologist and a colleague of Sigmund Freud. From this Peter studied an Art Foundation Course at Bradford and then progressed to the Central School of Art & Design in London, where he specialised in the study of Ceramics. Spreading his wings further afield Peter managed to secure a position in the state of Iowa in the U.S.A to teach at a local University.
The Swinging Sixties, both sides of the pond were, were a time of rapid change and development not only in the arts and also Peter’s move to America changed everything for him. A modernisation of glass was taking place that embraced and allowed the artist to work with speed, wit, and spontaneity in design often leading to the unexpected. Peter was fascinated and enrolled on to the University’s Glass Blowing course under the tutelage of a couple of the new movement’s pioneers, learning from Martin Lipofsky and Sam Herman.
In 1976 Peter Layton returned to London and opened the London Glassblowing Workshop in Rotherhithe on the Thames. Glassblowing is and always has been an expensive business, the cost of materials and energy bills are indeed a premium. In order to spread these expensive running costs Peter shared the premises with other artists such as Charles Ramsay, Norman Stuart Clark and Siddy Langley. The benefits of this arrangement were not just financial as the space allowed the artists to share creative ideas and to work in collaboration, while developing new techniques. This ethos has continued through all of Peter’s premises and is very much the case at London Glassblowing in Bermondsey Street. Today, if you are passing the Gallery and Studio, and wander in to take a look around it is quite likely that you will see the lively octogenarian Peter in his jeans and training shoes “bouncing between his “family” of resident artists, advising, collaborating and teaching, while producing his own unmistakable work”
Peter’s works, inspired by the world he sees around for nature to the manmade are highly sought after by all in the art world from, collectors, corporate buyers, galleries, institutions and private buyers. Currently his works are displayed in various museums and galleries throughout the world from the U.K to America in esteemed establishments such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to the Fitzwilliam.
A quick visit to the London Glassblowing online shop, details below, and I have found the perfect memento to dangle on this year’s Christmas tree as we celebrate the end of another decade and indeed the beginning of the second decade of this 21st Century. A Christmas Bauble, by Peter Layton, ranging from £60 up to £120 for singles, and collections of three from £240 upwards all with a tasteful presentation box with a facsimile of Peter’s signature. New for 2019 there is the opportunity to buy a collection of Heirloom baubles, these will be unique and each signed by the artist.
From the 15th of November up to and including Christmas Eve there is Christmas at London Glassblowing billed as “A special time of year with fires ablaze” and is open from 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday. For more information on this British handmade glass art creator visit the website below, telephone, or call in if you are passing.
0207 403 2800 / 62-66 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UD.