Summer 2015 Glass Art Conference San Jose USA Glass Cutting from Waterford The Glass City, Ireland

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

June 7th 2015

Fred Curtis, Róisín de Buitléar: Glass Cutting from Waterford The Glass City, Ireland


Our workshop was held at Held at the San Jose State University and introduced by Mary White, this years recipient of the GAS lifetime achievement award. It was while on a Fulbright Scholarship in Ireland in 2009 that Mary White witnessed first hand the devastating effect on the City of Waterford when the Waterford Crystal factory went into receivership with the loss of 2000 jobs. She has been an advocate for preserving Ireland’s glassmaking tradition since then, and we thank her for supporting us in this journey to San Jose.


Our demo started with a short visual view of our work, including ‘CAUTION! Fragile – Tradition in Transition’, a collaborative exhibition shown at Museum of Glass Tacoma, and ‘Waterford the Glass City’, a series of glass focussed events supported by the city, to celebrate the Year of Design in Ireland 2015, aimed at bringing an awareness of the importance of Glass to the city’s future regeneration. These include: a contemporary exhibition in Waterford’s City hall called ‘Refract’ ‘Masters of the Glass’ at the Museum of Treasures, (the first ever exhibition of local Master pieces in the history of the city), and a symposium called Future Legacies to be held in Waterford Institute of Technology September 18/19th 2015. I am the project director and curator of these events, which are helping to bring about change and a new optimism to the city.


The future of glassmaking is at a critical point in Ireland, with only two remaining factories blowing and cutting crystal on a very small scale, in the entire country. To put this statement in context – Glass has been made in Waterford city since 1783. In recent years, the glass factory, employed 4000 people blowing and cutting glass in 4 different plants around the city. The perceived value of the Waterford crystal company was once so great, that shares in the company were more valuable than those of CocaCola. With the closure of the hot glass furnace at NCAD last year, there is now nowhere in Ireland to study hot glass at degree level, and no open access studios which qualified glassmakers can utilise. The House of Waterford Crystal factory has just been resold to a Finnish company. There are currently hundreds of skilled workers who have remained in the city, without employment.


Fred Curtis is undoubtedly the most versatile crystal sculptor and cutter, independently working in Ireland today. He was trained at the famous factory, starting as an apprentice at age 16. He has become one of the most celebrated and sought after crystal sculptors in contemporary commercial production. Recipients of his work, list like a who’s who of political and social life, from US Presidents, to the Queen of England. He regaled the San Jose audience with stories of visiting Buckingham Palace last year, playing with the corgis and taking tea with the Queen.


Fred demonstrated stone wheel cutting, by first trueing up the stone wheels with a homemade tool of metal strapping from a packing case, stacked and tied, which sharpens and shapes the profile of the wheel. In the small workshop space of San Jose State University, it created a piercing noise which illustrated well how a warehouse of 400 cutters may have sounded in the height of production at the factory. Next he explained how ‘marking up’ the shallow bowl he was cutting, guided the wheel from one line to another, cutting a geometric pattern typical of the style of Irish crystal cutting. As the pattern emerged, together we unfolded insights to his work and life as an industrially trained glassmaker.


Intermittently he resharpened the wheel to keep the cutting lines clear and sharp. He then showed how carving from a solid block of crystal, he can achieve sculpted figures such as a horse, with softened curves and delicate prancing limbs. He showed how he maps out the form in profile and then carves into the block, removing sections at a time.


On a taza shaped piece, I demonstrated diamond point engraving using a flexible drive. I have for many years worked on a series of pieces inspired by lace making traditions of the unnamed craftswoman. By interpreting the stitches of Irish lace makers, I look to pay homage to the toil, patience and intricacies of their work, while capturing the the delicacies of shadow and light inherent in glass. I had marked up the piece with an indelible pen before arriving as it takes many hours of drawing, and refining the lines before actually engraving the image. I refine each line with a dampened wooden cocktail stick to fine the line and improve the shape, so that when I am working with the flexible drive it flows easily. The repetition of line and meditative quality of the movement adds to the overall rhythm of the image and is important to the harmony of the finished piece. The demonstration included how I approach the design, the free drawing style which in this case is based on the actual stitches of the original lace pattern, and tips and advice on the use of various bits and shafts. What you leave out is more important than what you put in.. it is this that gives life to the engraving. Planning where to engrave a piece takes me far longer than the actual engraving which is a long slow process.


We took heart from how many people were interested in learning from us. We were amazed that the room was so full and everyone wanted to linger, far longer than our allocated slot. In coming to San Jose we wanted to share our story and to open new possibilities in showing what kind of skill base is available in glass cutting in our country. There are skilled workers, and teachers ready to work. Seeing new possibilities for these skills is the key to making a better future for glassmaking in Waterford. International support, whether through learning, commissioning, visiting, sharing, or technically supporting us, is critical to the survival of this knowledge base. Witnessing the support in San Jose, gives us much energy to keep trying to connect the world to the huge resource we have laying idle in Ireland. It encourages us to continue to show the International Glass community how it is they can become involved or engaged in our conversation. In September we look forward to welcoming Treg Silkwood based in San Jose, who will lead a workshop and give a presentation at our symposium in Waterford. If you wish to find out more or join in our conversation, please look at Waterford the Glass City on Facebook and CAUTION Fragile Every view, like or “share” actually makes a contribution to our efforts. Thank you.


A special thanks to Mary White, Cassandra Straubing, Rich Samsel and Kim Webster in helping to supply necessary tools and information.

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