Glass blowing in the family

By Melissa Walsh   Photos Yanni

It’s a hot, tricky business that takes a toll on the mind and body, but once you’re hooked, its addictive. That’s the word from Eileen, Grant and Hamish, the family behind Gordon Studio Glass Blowing in Red Hill.

“It’s a matter of skill and creativity to master the art of glass blowing,” said the family from their studio. “Scientifically, glass is made by melting together several minerals at very high temperatures. Silica in the form of sand is the main ingredient and this is combined with soda ash and limestone and melted in a furnace at temperatures of 1300°C. It’s very hot working with a furnace and its very hard to master, being one of the oldest and most difficult art forms.”

For husband and wife, Eileen and Grant, working as glassblowers is now second nature, with the couple so devoted to the craft that they created their very own studio, Gordon Studio Glassblowers.

These days, son Hamish has joined the team, working as a glassblower and creating his own designs as he learns the trade from mum and dad.

“I used to work in here when I was doing my trade over the last few years, making paper weights to earn some extra money. But it wasn’t until I travelled overseas and saw all the artwork that inspired me to come back and learn the art of glassblowing,” said Hamish who has taken to it like a duck to water according to his parents.  “I wanted to do it, I grew up with mum and dad doing this, would come in as a kid and make paperweights for pocket money. “I went to Turkey and did a course and have also learnt lots about it on YouTube. I am doing a master class in Canberra soon.

Like his parents, Hamish says he loves the intensity of glass blowing.

“It’s go go go. I like the heat, the challenge, the constant improvement. It also allows you to do the things you want to do and constant improvement as you have to build the skills to achieve your ideas.”

When Hamish first started two years ago, he was making lots of tumblers, drinking glasses, paperweights and basic vases. These days, he designs his own creations, one of which is the sculptural heads where he uses a new technique.

“I come up with the design myself and experiment, getting my inspiration from anywhere and everywhere,” he said. “You have a lot of ideas that come to you while you are working; you might see something from a different angle and it sparks an idea.”

Already, Hamish has a whole range of his own work and is selling to galleries.

“Even working with mum and dad is not too bad,” he says with a laugh.

For Grant and Eileen, they are enjoying having Hamish there and admit it is a very frustrating skill to learn.

“Picking up a pipe with a piece of glass on it is so hard,” said Grant. “When I was a farmer in my earlier days, I thought I could do anything but glassblowing is another realm. Every part of your body, your strength, balance and mind is strained. It is like learning to balance something on a needle, where gravity works for and against you.”

Starting the business in Rosebud, it was eight years later they decided to build the studio in Red Hill and opened it in 2004.

Since then, they have started doing beginners classes, where people can get a sense of what is involved in the age old craft.

“We started the classes about two years ago and they are very popular. In a day people make a tumbler and paperweights and we help them get a feel for the whole process,” said Eileen who still loves the skill and creativity involved in glass blowing.

While the process of glass blowing doesn’t change much, Eileen says, after all these years, you never stop learning.

“You keep making better pieces and I get inspiration from nature around me. Even when you go travelling you spend your time gazing and thinking how you could replicate things in glass.  One thing we do a lot more of is adding sculptures and piece to home décor. We do a lot more indoor and outdoor sculptures for private homes as well.”

The gallery and studio is one of the few in Victoria that caters for those wishing to view and buy an existing work of art glass, as well as those interested in having customized hand blown glass art works created to their own specific needs.

Visitors to the studio have the rare opportunity to witness glassblowing from the security and comfort of the light-filled viewing mezzanine. You can experience the searing heat of the furnaces, observe master glass artisans at work and learn about the ancient art of glassblowing.

Over the years Eileen and Grant have created a wide vocabulary of blown forms, revisiting and refining earlier shapes whilst extending experimentation and their mastery of color, scale and understanding of the capricious nature of glassblowing. Now Hamish is carrying on the tradition alongside his proud parents.

Like any passion, for Grant, Eileen and Hamish, running a business is all consuming.

“It’s a lifestyle thing you do. We blow glass about three to four days, but it’s a cycle. You have to make the glass in the furnace, and then use that to blow the next day, and then fill up the furnace again. There’s also grinding, cutting and polishing, as well as running the gallery.”

They say the reason for their success is a mixture of hard work and putting in the hard yards.

“It’s still very time consuming. You are up and running a furnace 24/7 and the working time gas bill alone is up in the thousands per week. Everything we make goes into kilns to cool down and, in fact, glass is the most expensive form of art to create, but it is not really a job if you have artistic dreams.”

Gordon Studio Glass is at 290 Red Hill Road, Red Hill
Phone 5989 7073

First published in Peninsula Essence – September 2017