A customer recently offered the following statement: 'Of course, we have no British glass makers anymore.' He may have regretted this casual remark half an hour later as we got out some of the pieces that we have from just a few of our amazing British glass artists. Luckily, we were able to show him pieces by Peter Layton, Norman Stuart Clarke,Jonathan Harris, Timothy Harris, Siddy Langley, Karlin Rushbrooke, Stuart Akroyd and many others, not forgetting one of the pioneers of the British Studio Glass movement, Michael Harris.
Michael Harris is one of the towering names of the modern glass world. He trained at the Stourbridge College of Technology and Art - and what better place to be for a future glass artist - and then at the Royal College of Art in London, where he later became a tutor. Here he refined his engraving and draughtsmanship skills and finally was able to work with hot glass. We have at home an early Fish vase, shown below, that he made while at the Royal College, a wonderful swirl of colours that look forward to the Mdina fish vases to come.
It was in 1968 that he set up the Mdina studio on the island of Malta. With his partner, Eric Dobson, raw recruits were trained to a high standard, coming to them with no previous training and therefore no preconceived ideas. And out of this risky venture came the incredible success story that continues to this day. Mdina glass reflects for the most part the colours that surround the island, the deep blues and greens of the Mediterranean, the gold, ochres and yellows of the land. This is a goblet signed by Michael Harris showing the browns and ochres of the spectrum.
There are many shapes in the Mdina catalogue: bottles, vases, fish vases, decanters,bowls, perfume bottles, dishes and sculptures. This is a chalice signed by Eric Dobson.
The story of Michael Harris and Malta came to an abrupt end in 1972 when, after the election of the Labour Party in 1971, its new Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff, worked to expel foreign nationals from the island. Eventually, Michael Harris and his family decided to go before they were pushed and, leaving Mdina Glass in the capable hands of Eric Dobson and the master glassblower, Vincente Boffo, went back to England.
Back in England, the Isle of Wight was finally chosen as the site of the new studio and Isle of Wight Glass came into being. Although similar shapes and designs were produced there, gradually designs became thinner and more finely blown. Here is a bottle from an early range called Seaward with deeper greens and blues than before. This example is signed by Michael Harris. To the right is a paperweight, also signed.
Other early designs were Tortoiseshell and Aurene. Shown in the example below are two bottles, one in the Tortoiseshell pattern and the other in the Earthtones pattern.