A Smashing Time at IOW Studio Glass
Isle of Wight Studio Glass (Isle of Wight)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Isle of Wight Studio Glass (Isle of Wight)
Date: 08/05/10, updated on 08/05/10 (257 review reads)
Advantages: Educational and engaging glass-making demonstrations.
Disadvantages: Mainly a shop with workshop attached.
MY WIFE GETS CRAFTY
On our recent family trip to the Isle of Wight, I found myself in a generous mood and allowed my wife to plan our itinerary for our second day on the island. Admittedly, given our wildly divergent ideas of what constitutes entertainment (castles for me, arty stuff for her) it represented something of a risk, but I was willing to make the sacrifice in exchange for a timely deposit in the bank of goodwill, particularly given we have a World Cup summer ahead of us. Having already visited a seaside pottery and a crafts village before lunch, I was beginning to wonder whether I had made the right call when we turned off the main road between Ventnor and Blackgang, heading for a small hamlet called St Lawrence and following signs for the Isle of Wight Glass Studio.
BIT OF BACKGROUND
Isle of Wight Glass has been made since master international glassmaker Michael Harris founded a studio on the current St Lawrence site in 1973. It has been a family concern ever since. They also have a shop in the picturesque inland village of Godshill, as well as a full service on-line shop at www.isleofwightstudioglass.co.uk. The web site also has a wealth of resources, including some short videos and descriptions of the glassmaking process and the tools used.
We dutifully followed our trusty satnav, but I began questioning the wisdom of relying on old Tommy when the paved roads gave way, first to gravel tracks and then to dirt roads. My concern proved unfounded as we pulled into the clearly signposted car park. Once we had sorted out the baby and instructed our five year old on the concept of "bull" in "china shop", we walked down a pretty path to the front entrance. As soon as I saw what we were in for, my heart sank and my more cynical tendencies kicked in.
You enter the establishment through a very well appointed, attractive shop which displays the glassware and decorative items the artisans in the workshop produce (as well as a small selection of other items which are clearly marked as having been made elsewhere). The whitewashed interior with its low exposed beams creates a very clean, charming and rustic feeling space (and here's why my heart sank) that is all uncomfortably conducive to facilitating the parting of money from wallets.
It put me in mind of a coach trip I took to Corinth in Greece, where we made an obligatory stop at a local "pottery museum" run by the driver's brother-in-law, which turned out to be a thinly disguised front for shifting as much of the tatty merchandise in the adjoining shop as possible. To be fair, IOW Studio Glass is nothing of the sort - the merchandise is original, very attractive and not mass produced by any stretch of the imagination - however - to be clear about this, it should be viewed as a shop with a workshop attached. In other words while watching the glassmakers practising their craft is very interesting, it won't hold your attention for more than ten or fifteen minutes.
The fact that we were charged an additional £3 each to actually sit in the gallery to watch glass being made did not do anything to temper my now rampant levels of cynicism. However, for once, my negativity was woefully misplaced. The workshop is reached through a short passage off the shop and is a large high ceilinged area where several glassmakers work on the various processes and steps to create the stunning objects d'art sold next door. Visitors sit (or stand) on a slightly raised platform behind a short rail to watch the artisans in action.
Once there are enough people gathered, one of the chaps - in our case a veteran of almost 30 years by the name of Keith Pollard - demonstrates the whole process from beginning to end in a very accessible, friendly and chatty style. On our visit, he was making round paperweights with swirl patters of colour embedded in them (think giant marble with a flat bottom) and he made sure we were able to see, and get a sense, of the skill required to turn out the finished product.
For an additional fee of £5, you can have a go at blowing a glass bubble from a blob of molten glass placed at the end of a long hollow tube - obviously with Ken's help. My wife was determined to have a go and managed quite a large one before it became too brittle and shattered rather spectacularly into several pieces onto the workshop floor. She was given a small glass disc with the IOW Glass logo embedded in it as a memento of her smashing experience. I had wondered whether my five year old daughter would stay engaged throughout, but fortunately, she found the whole experience fascinating - aided largely my glassman Keith's impish sense of humour.
Despite my initial reservations, I actually found the whole experience quite educational, so much so that I stayed behind to ask some questions when the demonstration finished. I must have enjoyed it, as I didn't bat an eyelid when I returned to the shop to find my wife and daughter happily engaged in flexing my credit card in the shop. In short, if you are passing through that part of the island on your way to somewhere else, or you have a particular interest in glass and glassmaking, then the IOW Glass Studio is a very worthwhile diversion.
Isle of Wight Studio Glass
Isle of Wight PO38 1XR
Tel: 01983 853 526
Opening Times (Glassmaking)
9:00 to 16:00 Monday to Friday
10:30 to 15:30 Saturday
10:30 to 15:30 Sunday (June to October only)
Open year round except Easter and Bank Holiday weekends
Limited opening at Christmas and New Year
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: A nice diversion if you are on the south coast of the IOW