Glass Ships in Bottles features Dr Ayako Tani’s collection of exquisite glass ships and tells a remarkable story of ingenuity.
The exhibition has been curated by Dr Ayako Tani, a glass artist and researcher specialising in the industrial and cultural history of glassmaking at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland. Faced with redundancy following the decline of heavy industry in the 1970s, highly skilled scientific glassblowers in the UK combined their experience making laboratory apparatus in an open flame with artistic flair to create and sell glass ships in bottles. A boom in demand ensued, and by the 1990s, thousands of these intricate glass ships were in production. Sadly, growing popularity led to mass-production which, although successful at first, brought about a drop in quality. The craft finally disappeared from the UK in 2005 when the last manufacturer outsourced work to China.
The modern skill of scientific glassblowing, which is sometimes referred to as lampworking, began with the invention of robust Borosilicate glass in the 1880s. Today, there are less than a hundred scientific glassblowers left in the UK and the skill is recognised as endangered by the Heritage Crafts Association.
The exhibition also includes Vessels in Memory, an oral history and art project featuring filmed conversations with former scientific glassblowers who describe their work.