Bath Aqua Glass is a Glass Blowing workshop, factory shop and teaching space. Founded by Annette Dolan, who I had the pleasure of meeting today, it occupies a central position on Walcot Street, the heart of Artisan creativity in Bath. Visitors walk past the hive of activity that is the workshop with its craftspeople and furnaces, and into a stunning shop full of wondrous creations. All manner of stunning glasswork is created here, but the signature creation is the wonderful Roman-inspired 'Aqua Glass', coloured with copper oxide to create a hue which is reminiscent of the World Famous Bath Spa waters. Unsurprisingly, Bath Aqua Glass is now Internationally renowned itself, and it is easy to see exactly why.
A fine array of glass art, in the uniquely beautiful Bath Aqua colour.
What fascinated me most about Aqua Glass is the truly interactive and passionate nature that the place and its staff exude. Visitors are encouraged to come in and watch the glass blowers at work, seated on a row of chairs that face the furnaces. I did just this and was transfixed by two gentlemen shaping and blowing champagne flutes. What began as a molten orb of glass within minutes became a gorgeous finished work of art, moulded and stretched by tools and incredible skill. It was mesmerising.
Fresh from the furnace, a glowing orb ready to be teased in to shape.
As I have said, a shared passion for glass making resonated throughout this place, and Annette and her colleagues offer several bespoke glass making opportunities to visitors. Working around a busy production schedule, there are Glass Making Taster Courses , Glass Bead Making Courses and even Stained Glass Commissions and Courses. These experiences are arranged by advanced booking only, so consult www.bathaquaglass.com for further details. The website is impressively built and full of information about the workshop and glass blowing.
The flaming heart of the glass factory, with the workshop space and outside doors (ventilation for the furnaces).
Although clearly innovative and enterprising as a business, I was struck by how reverential Annette is about the historical legacy of glass blowing, and the wonderful works of art that the past has produced. Between factory shop and furnace hang several stained glass windows with a rich historical past, and Annette told me all about them. Occupying pride of place is a lovingly restored window that was discovered beneath Bath Abbey. It shows the brushstrokes of Frederick Weeks, who appears himself in the central panels of the glass. Worked into the glass are amethyst, garnets and sapphires, and the whole pane is cleverly backlit to reveal its full effect.
A lovingly restored stained glass window. I had no idea that preciou sstones formed part of stained glass.
Two more nods to the past take the form of an Italian glass chandelier and a small window depicting Swiss Papal guards (in their eccentric slashed-sleeve uniforms). As an outsider who knows next to nothing about glass blowing, I felt drawn to these creations, and after my brief visit today I am determined to attend a stained glass workshop to try my hand at this wonderful art.
A smaller creation, depicting two Swiss guards in their eccentric uniform (looking none too pleased about wearing it)!
After watching the artisans at their graft, I enjoyed browsing around the factory shop. After seeing some of the skill and artistry that goes into the creative process, I was struck by how the makers of glass literally breathe life into their creations and so create something both memorable and unique. Every individual work of art is marked, as a sign of authenticity. This really is a homegrown and deeply-rooted industry.
The finished, gleaming results of the furnace. All arrayed beautifully, and within reach of the globe due to worldwide shipping
My first impressions of this creative melting pot were positive, but my last impressions are glowing. Annette directed me to a copy of her book, 'Dyslexia Rules KO'. Having read just one chapter, I can see how she overcame a huge amount of challenges to achieve her ambitions, and this makes Aqua Glass even more impressive. In both her career and personal life, she has overcome tremendous challenges to create Aqua Glass, and she transports her readers back through her journey. I am now reading the remainder of her writing, and it is a testament to staying true to creativity.To finding a different way of learning and thinking, and making it work. Her book can be bought and enjoyed in the shop, next to the fruits of her tireless labours.
Bath is a place that is increasingly becoming dominated by International investment and Multinational interest, but there are hidden gems of local and loyal industry. This is one of them. Annette has preserved the authenticity of her company, and in the words of her book 'wanted to keep Bath Aqua as a handmade in Bath product and not outsource it'. If in any doubt of this ethos, then take a glance at my last photograph. A 'Wall of Fame' that celebrates Bath talent and community accomplishments, be they sporting or cinematic. Still sceptical? Check out the glass-imprinted palms of the Mayor of Bath, the mitts of Mike Tyndall (of England Rugby Fame), and the impression of Ken Loach, Socialist and campaigner for fairness. Come and see for yourself.