Tony Cummings Glass studio in High Bickington, a small village between Great Torrington and Umberleigh, is the epitome of a traditional skilled man’s workshop. Quaint, a little rough around the edges and filled with stories to tell, it serves as an authentic back drop which invites others from around the county to experience this intricate craft and find out more.
On arrival, Tony gave us a potted history of glass and its manufacture, as well as telling us about his own background where he has been blowing glass since he was 15 years old! We then had a brief safety instruction where we were congratulated on our suitable choice of footwear (covered toes are a must) and provided with safety specs. It was clear that safety is extremely important and knowing that from the outset allowed us to focus on the task at hand without worrying about risk of being harmed.
Introduction over, it was time to get stuck in. Tony explained how you collect the glass at the end of a glass blowing rod from a heated crucible before blowing a small amount into the rod and putting your finger on to the end to increase the pressure which creates a small bubble – think blowing up a balloon. Then the molten glass is shaped using a variety of tools – a wet wooden ladle to create a rounded shape, cutters which pinch the glass to create a ball shape, and a wet file to create a weak point so that when the rod is tapped the glass is released. A tubular shaped kiln, called the ‘glory hole’, is used for inserting a rod with glass on to keep it malleable for reworking.
Tony showed us how to make a bauble then helped each of us to have a go. My husband was quietly confident even though, as a left hander, he found it strange at first. I’ll be honest, I did struggle to get to grips with it all as I didn’t have the confidence to hold the rod whilst blowing and controlling the molten glass all at once but Tony was extremely aware and considerate of this to make sure I did as best as I could and still had an enjoyable experience. He would do a part, let me do some and then keep control or correct what I had done to get to the next stage by my own devices, even though assisted. By the end I felt that I had created a unique piece of glassware myself.
After our initial efforts, a fantastic lunch was provided by Lorraine with a huge selection of home cooked pasties, freshly made sandwiches and wraps as well as salad, crisps, fresh scones with jam and cream and the gooiest chocolate brownie I’d tasted in a long time!
After lunch, we spent until 3pm making a vase, adding colour using different techniques and then thoroughly enjoyed having a go at creating a crackle effect too.
Tony had already explained that the experience day is quite a new concept for him but his obvious passion for the work that he does, as well as his desire for you to create something worthwhile, is very clear. I guess it was unreasonable of me to think that I might master this in a few hours when he has trained for 30+ years but I was appreciative of his skill and the fact that I managed, with his tuition, to achieve three individual pieces of glass which I will be able to keep as a reminder.
The experience is designed for either one or two people at a time and costs £85 per person or £150 for two. It isn’t suitable for large groups but that isn’t what this experience is about. Here you learn a traditional skill with one on one tuition and, with lunch included, is certainly worth the fee.
The glass items you make have to be cooled over a couple of days so you cannot take them home with you after your day but they can either be collected or posted to you afterwards.
For more information and to book your experience, visit: www.tonycummingsglass.com
Words: Elsa Hutchings
Images: Russ Perkin