This is Part 5 in my series, travelling around the UK in the hunt for contemporary artisans who are working and preserving our heritage crafts. If you chance upon this please do follow and ping me if you’re local to any of these artists too.
Stourbridge… not a lot of people know this, but it used to be a real hub for Britain’s glass industry. Up with the welsh sparrows, I found myself with a Sat Nav that had decided to peg out on me as I left the hotel. The hotel in Llandrindod Wells was a quirky victorian building which felt as though a writer had designed it: sticking twisting stairs, piling up wings and annexes, stained glass windows, complete with compulsory shaky lift.
It was however one of the nicest experiences staying anywhere I’ve had for a long time. And at a marvelous rate too. I must have looked like a needy creative as they upgraded me to a huge bedroom with bay windows. The evening meal was a total bargain. It being Sunday, roast was on the menu, as some of you know I’m practically veggie, but I caved in and treated myself to some locally sourced road kill and what looked like the entire vegetable crop of Wales. I was the only one in the dining room (am very continental, I eat late!) so I had Dudley Moore playing jazz on my iPhone as I imbibed a bucket of vino welsho to wash down the woolly mammoth I’d just consumed. It was also the same night that the Perseids were giving it what for in the sky, which may explain stuff…
Sorry, I digress, so, back to being in Esmerelda and using the force to drive out of Wales and towards Stourbridge, carefully avoiding any signage that wanted to aim me at Birmingham.
It was still a nice drive, but as I was emerging into the real world complete with concrete boxes and proper tarmac, I found myself daydreaming about the day before’s inspirational stumble up to the castle at Dinefwr (yes, I know, welsh is barmy with the vowels). I say stumble, as I was in flipflops and carrying the camera with the elephant trunk screwed to its face (my terminology for the long lens…).
You know, it doesn’t matter how many times I find myself just me and the countryside, I can’t help but totally fall in love with our beautiful earth all over again. Maybe play this Van Morrison track while you read this.
It’s one of the reasons I’m creating this book on our heritage crafts. When I had my gallery/book/music shop in Cambridgeshire I was struck by the number of artists and creatives who were hidden. Let’s face it, most of us hate the self-promotion stuff, but if you can unlock the door to help others realise their dream and potential then, well, it makes life feel good. We used to have a gypsy called Brian walk in with handmade chrysanthemum flowers made from wood, which I bought and then sold on for him; this simple transaction sparked an idea in me, which lay dormant and festering creatively in my whirlwind head until this year. And so the germ of this book was sown.
Anyway, back to Stourbridge… what can I say.. Catriona MacKenzie, known to everyone as Cat. ‘Likely one of the most feisty creative glass blowing young women you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Passionate and fired up about her art, experimenting and pushing personal creative boundaries too, she has prolific energy and exhibits all over the UK, taking commissions, trades and coming up with new ideas to mix colour, create layers.
In her hands I witnessed what it was to understand the softness of glass, this unforgiving medium when cold, but straight from the furnace is pliable transparent crystal treacle. Using scissors and tubes, blowing through metal rods, wads of wet newspaper and what looked to me like a medical butcher’s trolley (I’m still having nightmares!!) she creates such delicate and accurate rainbows of colour. I was with her all day, and also took some video which I’ll edit and post up soon. Was a fabulous afternoon. If you find yourself in Stourbridge, drop her a message to see if she’s blowing, I’m sure she’d love to see you.. just watch out for her dance with the rod!! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Catriona-R-MacKenzie-Glass/334594936582387