Treg Silkwood of the San Francisco Bay Area Glass Centre (right) is one of several experts who is enthused by Waterford's potential "sustainable future centred on glass".
Positive moves to create new glass-related jobs and enhanced education levels in the craft of glass making in Waterford city are being considered by local stakeholders, including the City & County Council.
As Liam Murphy reported in last week’s edition, a host of potential measures, including the establishment of a glass museum, tracing Waterford’s distinguished history of production, were discussed at a special symposium held at WIT on September 18th and 19th.
And there was great support for the call to make Waterford the ‘glass centre of Ireland’, which would see some of the great cutters and blowers of our recent past training a new generation in a customised museum/craft/production facility.
A range of crystal experts, hailing from the USA, Denmark, France, England and Germany discussed, as the symposium literature stated: “what ways Waterford city and community (can) optimise their long heritage of glassmaking and create a sustainable future centred on glass.”
A Waterford delegation (including Council, Viking Triangle, the Craft Council of Ireland and educational figures) has already visited the eastern French village of Meisenthal, where 17 glass workers are currently employed, over 30 years after its primary glass plant closed.
Yann Greinenberger, the Director of the Meisenthal-based Centre International De l’Art des Verriers (CIAV), explained that state, municipal and educational funding, helped to get their education-based initiative up and running. In the interim, monies from touristy visits and glass arts sales have helped to bridge any potential funding gaps, with support also provided by nearby glass brands such as Baccarat and St Louis.
Mr Greinenberger believes that Waterford could achieve a similar marriage of heritage, education and tourism, and offered his know-how to local stakeholders should they embark on such an endeavour.
Glass tourism is also on the rise in the United States, and this was discussed with great enthusiasm by Montana native Treg Silkwood and Seattle-based Chuck Lopez, both graduates of Alfred University in upstate New York.
Both Mr Silkwood, who referred to the great name of Waterford and its future opportunity and Mr Lopez discussed the “nuts and bolts” of making a community access glass studio work.
During the symposium, Mr Silkwood (who works at the Bay Area Glass Centre in California) displayed several glass items with a sea shell theme – he’s a keen sub aqua diver.
Some of his works, be they coloured glass depictions of coral or acorns, have sold for considerable sums and he described himself as a “businessman, educator and artist”.
Incidentally, this maritime reference got this observer thinking about the potential for a sea/coastal-themed glass collection taking inspiration from our own beautiful coast.
Whilst training, Mr Silkwood spent time at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague, following in the footsteps of (the post World War II) founder of Waterford Crystal, Miroslav Havel, who trained there prior to travelling to Suirside.
Visitors and corporate groups travel to the Bay Area to learn about glass making, while local artists also rent the blowing furnace, thus providing an additional funding stream, further supporting “the glass experience” which has been developed in California.
The facility is almost self-financing at this stage, but also receives support from city and educational authorities, so transposing such a model to Waterford doesn’t appear too great a leap.
Also willing to share his ideas with the WIT audience with respect to creating a new ‘glass school/training facility’ in Waterford, Chuck Lopez said that former Crystal cutters and blowers could pass on their talents to a new generation of trainees while also developing a new tourism product into the bargain.
Mr Lopez, who is a glass technologist, instructor, blower and studio technician and Pratt Fine Arts in Seattle, also spoke with great energy and positivity, and referred to the low cost approach to building a furnace.
Salaries, rent and energy costs at Pratt have to be supported by revenue from art classes, training courses, sales, as well as corporate events and tourist visits. Its furnaces run for 13 hours a day and the more the furnace is used, the greater the economic yield. One follows the other, he stated, adding that some state training support helps to consolidate such revenues.
We met several local artists at the event, including Eamon Terry of Criostal na Rinne, glass engraver Eamon Hartley, along with Greg Sullivan and Donal Nolan, while former Waterford Crystal cutter and current City & County Councillor Joe Kelly was also in attendance. Also present were Waterford City & County Council’s Brid Kirby and Viking Triangle CEO Fiona McHardy.
The need to champion apprenticeships and the sustenance of trades, especially those unique to Waterford, has been addressed previously in several editorials in this publication, and it is pleasing to see others speaking in similar noises about honing in and championing indigenous skills.
The symposium was held as part of ‘The Glass City’ project initiated by artist and NCAD (Dublin) lecturer Róisín De Buitléar, who won just praise for the energy she invested into organising the event.