With work sold across Europe and the United States, shown in national museums and seen in major public art commissions such as Salisbury District Hospital – glass artist Ruth Dresman has earned a fine international reputation.
Now she’s bringing her distinctive designs to Walford Mill for a solo exhibition as the Wimborne crafts centre continues to consolidate 30 years of showcasing the work of the very best makers from Britain and further afield.
Ruth’s beautifully subtle, fluid designs are largely drawn from nature and worked by hand as she painstakingly sandblasts fine layers of glass to create effects of colour and texture that often suggest worlds within worlds – the images flow past each other as the piece is observed.
The bowls, bottles and plates on show have all been designed and decorated by Ruth who works with glassmakers James Devereux and Katie Huskie in the blowing process to create the right forms and flow for each design.
“When I arrive at Devereux and Huskie my ideas are fully formed,” she says. “Decisions on the precise combinations of colours are made long before any breath enters the glass and I’ll have anticipated how the weight should be distributed to create a balanced piece. All the way through the process I am executing a plan. Glass requires a very decisive approach.”
Having drawn the design onto the cooled glass and protected it with a durable plastic film, Ruth then cuts lines with a scalpel to make a single-use stencil before carefully blasting away layers of glass to create the intended intensity of colour and pattern.
As a young artist Ruth did a lot of printmaking and etching – the parallels with the way she works today are obvious.
“Using hand-cut stencils, as with silk screen printing, dictates the clean cut lines that you see in the glass,” she explains. “The imagery describes the space, the flicker of a bird in a hedgerow or a fish in a pool are fleeting things that catch the eye. You then have to work to see them clearly. Birds, fishes and trees live their lives in a three dimensional world and I think they migrate happily into glass.”
Each piece begins with an idea, a moment’s inspiration, followed by extensive research and then a process of drawing as the design is perfected, but what happens next is down to science as colours are combined and layered before the glass is blown.
“Unlike material of a rigid molecular structure such as iron, glass is a liquid that flows and it will go on flowing as it cools. It must be annealed – slowly cooled to calm the structure and make it strong. Once cool and hard as stone, I change the way I work with it and use different techniques. Glass has a memory and if things go badly at the start the whole process tends to be difficult. That is one reason some pieces can take a lot longer than others.”
The finished forms are polished and cut in collaboration with fellow glass artist Steve Frey, adding a further co-operative dimension to Ruth’s work that she finds absolutely rewarding.
“It means I am directly part of a team at least part of the time,” she says. “The makers I work with have devoted their lives to their skills and are at the top of their game. Their workshops are places for the practical exchange and development of ideas – as well as cups of tea – in what can be otherwise a rather isolated existence, that of being a person in a shed making things that take a long time.”
Now based in her home studio at West Knoyle near Warminster, Ruth studied 3D Design: Glass at West Surrey College of Art & Design before working at the famous Glass House in London and as a resident craftsperson in a Salisbury gallery. After travelling to the USA, Mexico, India and Indonesia she returned to Wiltshire and established her independent practice in 1986. In 1998 she was commissioned by Buckingham Palace to make a spectacular vase and a pair of glass bottles to be given to the Sultan of Brunei and his wives as a gift from HM The Queen during the state visit. The glass had acorns and oak leaves on them and the royal cypher.
‘The Sultan had two wives so there was one for each of them! I’ve since made more oak leaf bottles for the Palace, which the Queen gives to visiting dignitaries, I still get a Christmas card every year.”
Ruth is the latest in a long line of exceptional makers to have held solo exhibitions of their work at Walford Mill Crafts over the last 31 years.
“The opportunity to show work of this quality and to inform and hopefully to inspire people about glass as a medium is why Walford Mill exists and we hope that people will come and enjoy what will surely be a very special exhibition,” says joint CEO Anne Hitchcock.
14 January – 26 February 2017
Walford Mill Crafts, Stone Lane, Wimborne. 01202 841400