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Functional Fantasy: How glassblower Laura Smith creates her mystical pieces

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Elizabeth Finney meets with glassblower Laura Smith to find out more about her personal blend of glass sculpture and functional products

“A lot of my inspiration definitely comes from the materials themselves,” says Smith, the woman behind Laura Elizabeth Glass. “I like the lack of symmetry and the tension between the materials.” Smith creates hand-blown, functional pieces for the home, including lamps, vases and door handles, layering her glass with precious metals to create myriad wild textures and visuals. “There’s a meditative quality to making glass pieces because you’ve got a rhythm and it’s repetitive. I think that’s why I like using these materials,” she says. There is a common theme of undulating fluidity in her work and each piece is unique, even offering her the element of surprise during the making process.

Sep 12th 2018
Elizabeth Finney
Craftsmanship
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Smith has found endless inspiration in the sea, with good reason. She was born and raised on the ethereal island of Bermuda, surrounded by the aquamarine ocean. “Water is the main element where I look for inspiration, from the world beneath the waves and rainstorms to ice-loaded clouds and tiny water droplets,” she explains. “It rains every day in Bermuda, but not for long. The funny thing about Bermuda is you can see the sun rise and set from the same spot, because the island is one long curving mass, plunging in and out of the water on both sides. It’s very mystical.” 

Taking a creative cue from her mother, who is constantly handmaking a variety of textiles, Smith came to London to study painting and sculpture at the Chelsea College of Art. “I was looking to incorporate glass in my paintings and my tutor suggested a course up at Edinburgh College of Art,” says Smith. “I just fell in love with the craft, so I spent three years in Edinburgh and in the summer, I’d work in a glass studio in Bermuda, which was brutal because it was so hot.”

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Smith returned to London and started working for renowned glassmaker Adam Aaronson, who had a studio in Earl’s Court for more than 20 years. If her time in Edinburgh taught her about the importance of a strong concept, it was in London where she learnt how to combine concept with function. During her years of making glass sculptures, she began receiving commissions for bespoke chandeliers. “I realised that it was really satisfying and that I loved making lamps and functional pieces,” Smith says. “I still make sculptures, but there’s an element of blending the functional with the sculpture in my work. I think everything that I’ve done in terms of making sculptural glass, working with different materials, has fed into these pieces. There’s a lot of tension between metal pieces and glass; it’s hypnotising.” 

The running theme threading her work together is elements of the natural world, from her sources of inspiration to her manipulation of metals, which when combined produce entrancing collections entitled things like ‘cascade’ and ‘zephyr’. “Copper can produce amazing little bubbles within a piece, but when it’s on the exterior it blackens, offering a totally different effect,” she explains keenly. “The silver often wants to turn a yellowy colour, especially when it reacts with the copper. I just have to know my copper oxides and silver. Gold is really easy to work with too, because it’s so soft.”

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Having exhibited at the Maison & Objet Paris fair in January, Smith is now gearing up for the Decorex show in London (Stand F17, September 16-19). Looking ahead, she’s got plenty of ideas. “I’m already looking at using different materials for my work, such as more metalwork and wood,” she says. “There are amazing distortions to use as inspiration ­– translating them into different materials could be really interesting. That’s in the plan for the future. For now, I’m very happy working with glass and I always will be.” Like many makers, Smith is a very visual person, and while it’s clear where a lot of her inspiration comes from, listening to her talk about her materials is just as mystifying as looking at their final form.

lauraelizabethglass.com

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