We Have a tradition of glass-making that is centuries old and a reputation that means you can go just about anywhere in the world and people have heard of Waterford Crystal.
What is less known are new generations of glassmakers, who are taking the tradition in exciting directions.
Among them is architectural glass artist Bianca Divito who designs and makes glass art from her studio in Coolgreaney, Co Wexford.
Stained glass is her forte, with a level of expertise that sees her working on the conservation of Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral’s stained glass windows and the medieval windows in England’s York Minster and Canterbury Cathedral, plus contemporary windows in Oman’s Guest Palace.
However, it is Bianca’s domestic art pieces that give the public an opportunity to own her work, from window pendants to sculptural works for outdoors.
“Art can come in many forms, but commissioning a glass art piece is something very special,” she says. “For me, it is as much about creating a mood rather than just a look, using light as a tool to cast wonderful coloured light reflections into my clients’ spaces, which continually lift their spirits.”
Cost considerations might be foremost in people’s minds and, while Bianca agrees it can be expensive, she says: “It really depends on what you want. When I was invited to exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London in 2012, I realised the value in creating autonomous pieces of glass art for clients. Moveable pieces of art which could easily be transported and fixed in different locations made sense. These pieces can be more affordable as you don’t have the associated costs of designing into a fixed space. It’s really important to establish a budget from the beginning so that you can offer the best service while managing expectations.”
Just when we thought that we invented sustainability, there’s a reminder that our ancestors did it as a matter of course by making things for posterity.
“Stained-glass lasts,” says Bianca. “For something which seems so fragile, it’s really very robust and it can last for centuries. Nowadays, the majority of my exterior windows and outdoor garden features are encased in sealed toughened glazed units. This affords my work the added protection from the elements and it’s a really great way of keeping my client’s investments in mint condition over the years.
“Like the stained-glass windows of old, you are creating works for clients which will be admired for generations to come and that’s a very special thing indeed.”
There’s a process involved that Bianca sees as a collaboration between client and maker and, she says, “an exchange of ideas between you both and an exciting journey together. “Make sure that you are 100% happy with the design before the project progresses. Don’t be swayed by trends. You will be looking at the piece every day, so make sure you’re happy and be clear with the maker if you have concerns.”
Mastercraftsman glass cutter Eamonn Terry has been making hand-cut crystal since 1987 in the Gaeltacht heartland of Ring, Co Waterford.
Trained originally by Waterford Crystal, his studio, Criostal na Rinne, has developed its own exquisite and covetable aesthetic in his small-batch collections, ranging from wine glasses and tumblers to decanters and champagne coupes.
He also offers a bespoke service to make what he calls “a piece of crystal with its own individual story”.
These unique pieces have years of skilled craftsmanship in their design and making, while continuing the craft tradition, along with a level of expertise that enables the maker to guide a client in their choices.
“If someone has the budget to commission a specially designed and handmade piece, then they are helping to keep Ireland’s crafts alive into the future and the money is going into the local economy,” says Eamonn. “With the nature of handmade crystal, there is a significant amount of time involved. In Criostal na Rinne, nothing is massedproduced and someone commissioning a piece like this is paying for the craftsperson’s time and expertise.
“Even our main collections are produced in small batches,” says Eamonn. “We use sustainable materials in our packaging sourced here in Ireland.
“Of course, crystal is a material that, if cared for correctly, will last many years also. As a bespoke piece is unique, there is less environmental impact as would happen with something mass-produced.”