10 May 2013
By Wrightson and Platt
This weekend, our spectacular Glass Masterwork sculptures are proudly being showcased at Collect, the UK Craft Council’s international art fair which being held at the Saatchi Gallery.
These pieces of exceeding skill and dexterity within the field are a collaboration between ourselves, the specialist glass artist Bruno Romanelli, and master glass blower Peter Layton. They are being shown as part of the collection at the London Glass Blowing gallery at the fair.
As we are immensely proud of these beautiful works of art, we thought, in conjunction with Collect, we’d give you a little bit of an insight into how they are created, including a brief background of the importance of glass as an artistic medium throughout history.
The Glass Masterworks are a unique collaboration consisting of three components. We at Wrightson & Platt have used our exclusive life casting techniques to create the utmost delicately detailed hand, which Bruno Romanelli the carefully kiln casts into its ethereal, translucent finished form. Then, deftly mounted and positively melting over the fingertips, is Peter Layton’s expertly hand blown crystal bowl or vase.
Each element to these sculptures is a celebration of the specific crafts involved, and technically quite challenging. Glass, whist very rewarding can be a highly volatile material to work with. Therefore to put the significance of this skill and beauty into context, first we must understand the artistic development of glass in history.
The first signs of basic glass production date back as early as 1600 BC, where simple vessels were made by coating a clay core with molten glass and adding trails of colour. Then in the mid-first century BC, craftsmen discovered the fascinating technique of inflating hot glass through a tube. Production rapidly developed and bloomed, and glass blowing as an art form became dominant throughout the Roman Empire.
Valued for its visual properties and tactility, its superiority of glass as a material for both functional vessels and decorative sculptures offered it a luxury value that at that time only the rich could afford. Whilst this opulent status has endured to today as an emotional value, the development of the glass blowing practice meant that by the end of the first century AD, transparent and lightly coloured glass became used as everyday material; glass tableware became common, and windowpanes and glass mirrors began to be used. By the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries, advancements in the techniques of gilding and enamelling drove it into an artistic realm like never before.
As is important to the W&P brand ethos; Britain has a long, proud history in the production of glass and crystal, and is still one of the 4 leaders in Europe alongside the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the City of Venice. Coming into it’s own here during the Middle Ages, the manufacture of stained glass for cathedral building increased its demand and creative experimentation. Then later in the 1500s, several leading glass blowers from Venice move to London and found artistic favour with Queen Elizabeth I. It was with her support that the art form flourished, and importantly lead to the the discovery and production of lead crystal and high quality optical glass.
In an attempt by man to imitate nature’s crystals, experiments with the addition of metals to the chemical makeup of glass lead this discovery and gave it its name ‘lead crystal’. This addition of lead was noted to change the character of the material; creating a luxurious glass that is more durable, has a lovely ringing sound and highly refractive silvery appearance. Significantly at its time of new fame, the prevalence of glass cutting was on the increase, an art that beautifully compliments these qualities of lead crystal.
The rise of the UK as a driving force in the production of glass and crystal is largely owed to the glassworker George Ravenscroft in the late 1600s, when he established his own glasshouse and patented the production process. His continual experimentation with the chemical composition virtually eliminated all early flaws. Disrupted by the tax on glass introduced in the 1700s, hindsight can deem it a ‘lucky fate’, as it uprooted Ravenscroft to Ireland where he then met and co-founded with William Penrose the Waterford Glass House. This infamous house won worldwide accolades at one of the world’s first fairs, the aptly named Crystal Palace Exhibition, held in South London and not too far from our own Wrightson and Platt foundry. This firmly established the UK as a leader of the craft and raised a brotherhood that is still strong today.
With this enduring passion and heritage, key in the conception of our Glass Masterworks was bringing together the most accomplished craftsmen from these close brotherhoods. Working with Bruno and Peter was “a natural collaboration” quotes Denise Wrightson. “We are all at the top of our game” and indeed this is vital with the unpredictable nature of glass. It takes a true specialist to bend the material to their will.
Having worked with Bruno many times before, his expertise with kiln casting our delicate, highly detailed life moulds was imperative in the success of the Masterworks. The original conception started life as a previous design of Bruno’s, and it is only with the advancement of our technical skills since the first of our collaborations with him, were we able to evolve and give life to these challenging pieces.
The two material components of the pieces are the kiln cast hands and the blown vessels: two very different handlings of glass that require immense skill and knowledge. To form the ethereal hands Bruno briefly explains how he casts them: “the wax hands are moulded to form refractory moulds. Then [using the traditional lost wax method], wax is steamed out and the glass is cast into them in a kiln over a period of around 1 week. When they have cooled down they are cut, ground, sand-blasted, acid-polished and the bases polished by hand.”
The unique fluidity of glass as an artistic medium lends itself beautifully to our conception of the second component of the work: creating the effect of glass flowing gracefully over the hands, like fresh, crystal clear water. This offered an opportunity we could not miss with master glass blower Peter Layton.
Using a very strong plaster cast of the hand, which is coated in heat resisting graphite, Peter’s specialist team at the London Glass Blowing studio used their talents to nimbly blow the hot glass directly into the hand using traditional methods. This is key in creating a shape truly unique to each limited edition. This part requires a skilful collaborative effort: when working with glass all issues are best addressed while the material is hot, giving the team only moments to ensure the glass does not smother the hand, and the bowl is shaped accurately so to balance in its finished state. With their talents and knowledge, and the attentive guidance of Bruno and Peter, the team have created a perfectly poised equilibrium between design and mechanics.
The challenge of making such pieces clearly warrants the title of Glass Masterwork, but so do the visual glory of the finished pieces. Asked what they admire the most in the works, all three artists are in agreement: the technical accomplishment, the joy of such a highly skilled collaborative effort, but chiefly the unique aesthetic appeal.
The blown glass gently caresses the fingertips as it flows like water and air. The performance of the creation is retained in the soft bubble curves of the vessels, catching in time the hand of the artist. Literally capturing the hand of the artist: the cast hand is that of Bruno himself, and as the light dances through those pellucid structures it highlights and emblazons the delicacy of the life encapsulated within them. Every tiny crease and character is imprinted in the translucent satin skin of the cast hand, as captured by the exclusive W&P life casting technique. The sculptures truly sing of the beauty of their craftsmanship.
As Bruno describes: “[working with glass] the unpredictability is magical and frustrating in equal measure. The rich variety of qualities that can be achieved, and the interaction of material and light, is totally captivating”. But we can’t tell you that, you have to experience the delight for yourself.
See you at Collect!
Collect catalogue online preview: http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/collect/collect-catalogue2013/
Peter Layton at London Glass Blowing: http://www.londonglassblowing.co.uk/
Bruno Romanelli: http://www.brunoromanelli.com/
8 April 2013
By Wrightson and Platt
Welcome to the new Wrightson and Platt blog!
Each month we will be posting insights into the intriguing inner workings of W&P, and a take a peek into the heads of the inspirational creators of the company: Denise Wrightson and Vicky Platt. We will be revealing previously unknown secrets as to how your unique artworks are conceived and created, and the fascinating facts behind the materials and processes we use.
So, to start us off here is an update on the news so far in 2013.
As you may have already seen or heard, on the 24th of September last year we opened our stunning new showroom, right in the heart of London’s most exclusive quarter. Drawn by the exquisite level of quality and craftsmanship offered by businesses in the area, Vicky and Denise set out to claim their own spot in the renowned Walton Street.
Why Walton Street you ask? Well it’s an iconic location, marked as one of the borough’s conservation areas for it is steeped in history and architectural interest. The street seamlessly runs from residential to commercial, an unusual feature it has retained throughout its history, and explains its quaint village community atmosphere. Since its development back in the 1840’s, on the grounds of the exclusive Prince’s Cricket Club, the fascinating architectural features of stucco-fronted terrace houses and original timber framed shop-fronts have changed little; indeed neither have some of the independent commercial enterprises that call it home. It is this enduring tradition on the street that has inspired loyalty and a sense of family in the local businesses, qualities that Wrightson and Platt know so well, we just had to be a part of.
Once our perfect patch was secured, it was time to focus attention on the design of showroom itself and turn the dream into a reality. In true W&P style, the team wanted to collaborate with and celebrate great British craftsmanship, down to its most intimate detailing. It is with immeasurable thanks to the indefatigable enthusiasm of our design team, Camouflage, that the space was stripped back and a fresh, unique W&P stamp laid upon it.
If you are yet to encounter Wrightson and Platt, when you do you’ll instantly realize that we are anything but dull. From the Creative Director down to the newest member of the foundry, we all aim to push boundaries with our quirky inspirations. Therefore we had our work cut out for us in designing the showroom, as we set the bar to combine our eclectic, original Britishness, with an atmosphere of chic, domestic luxury. Long, intense weeks of colossal effort, material research, sourcing, and meticulous craftsmanship: the result, we think you’ll agree, is a perfectly polished design. Both elegant and individual, it carries a unique design language, which in turn echoes the service of characterful personalization as championed by the W&P brand.
To truly reflect our brand’s core aesthetic; fineness of detail and the luxurious nature of exclusive W&P pieces, Vicky and Denise wanted to ensure the space was light, open and elegant, down to its smallest element. Using a Gustavian white theme to create an atmosphere with a classic but contemporary tone, we sought out some of the UK’s finest designers to create the distinct display cabinets and intricate hand drawn wallpaper.
Indeed, one of the first details you notice upon entering the showroom is the furniture upon which the sculptures are so strikingly displayed. To achieve this, it was necessary for the design to visually balance the weight of the sculpture and compliment the complexity of each and every tiny detail. In sourcing the excellent cabinet-makers Noble Russell for their specialist skill, these elegant pieces of incomparable design really do showcase and celebrate our art.
The unique design of each handmade cabinet or feature table includes a characteristic ‘shifted wedge’. This not only stylistically updates the classic shapes used, but also adds extra levels upon which to display the sculptures individually, giving them the breathing space they deserve. In the cabinets, this subtle reveal inspires you to lean in for a well deserved closer look at the finer details. Extensive research too went into sourcing the perfect complimentary materials to build with. Using as inspiration the patinated bronze so prevalent in W&P sculpture, a rich Walnut wood was chosen, not forgetting of course the inclusion of our own personal touch of a bronze inlay.
In keeping with W&P’s values, each element of the showroom is a work of art in its own right, down to the very walls that frame the space. Celebrated illustrator Richard Phipps, renowned for his line work echoing a 19th century style, worked tirelessly on a 1:1 scale, hand drawing each wall drop individually to ensure a acute level of finite detail. Exploring the extraordinary Trompe l’oeil technique, he has accomplished a truly refreshing take on the classic Victorian paneling. Appearing as intricately engraved wooden panels that create a luxurious, domestic atmosphere, he continued the theme of celebrating Britishness with choice embellishment of emblematic kestrels, delicate roses, primroses, acorns and fresh peapods.
He even included an extra special showpiece: Lincoln, the head office’s prized whippet, sitting proudly in front of the fire!
An important feature to consider within the design was the showroom’s functionality as a sophisticated but comfortable client environment. Vicky & Denise really wanted to give you, our customers, the time and space to relax and discuss ideas for your bespoke sculptures. These pieces will be with you forever, so freedom to be creative is just as important as making the decision to have the casts done.
And what better way to make you comfortable than with tea and cake?! With this in mind, a specialist beverage station was designed to provide all we would need for the perfect Afternoon Tea. Beautiful, delicate crockery was sourced from Andrew Tanner; sleek silverware from Studio William; and of course state of the art coffee and tea makers were fitted into one smart cabinet. All of which can be discreetly sealed behind wallpaper clad, foldaway doors to continue the seamless feel of luxury. Then, for your utmost comfort, a stunning high-backed, winged, leather sofa was sourced from Dare Studio: an opulent feature we particularly enjoy ourselves.
The design aside, this is a space created as a platform to demonstrate what W&P can do for you. Everything has been designed to proudly demonstrate the innovations and technological feats we continually accomplish. Your life, your relationships, your newborn babies are all your own perfect works of art which deserve to be celebrated in the utmost exceptional style, and our showroom aspires to inspire. Not only will you get to hold a replica of the detailed individual casts and feel the grounding weight of the remarkable material in your hand, but also you’ll see the exciting new avenues W&P are exploring. From contemporary wall pieces and playful new designs, to the exquisite and delicate botanical jewellery collections, all have stories of their own waiting to be told.
No matter how we describe it to you nothing beats coming in and seeing the showroom for yourself. As tactile as your own babies’ feet or treasured as your grandfather’s craftsman hands are, the showroom is our new baby that we too are immensely proud to show off. Since our launch last year we’ve had such an overwhelmingly lovely response from all our visitors: clients old and new, press, friends, even the local residents and their dogs.
The future is extremely exciting for Wrightson and Platt, and with the opportunities presented by our showroom, we hope you’ll be there with us all the way. Come in, relax and let us help you find the perfect way to tell your stories through sculpture. When you’re here you’ll see the journey Vicky and Denise and all the team have taken to get to this point, a journey which brings together the finest English craftsmen, founders and silversmiths all with the same passion to create pieces of truly outstanding quality, unique to you. With us, your memories are in the best hands.
Special thanks to Emma Bristow at Emma Bristow Design, Alex Keane and Emma Gullick at Camouflage, Jerry Russell at Noble Russell, Richard and Paul at Aspen Concepts and every single member of their teams. Couldn’t have done it without you!
Last but not least, to our partner Gunnar Sachs for his faith, belief, patience and courage and of course, our own fantastic team.
Denise Wrightson & Vicky Platt