Flameworks Market at Teign Valley Glass

by Joe Morel

Peter Lanyons Wooden Table lamps

Peter Lanyons Wooden Table lamps

There’s a nondescript industrial building opposite the Princess Yachts works. There too, people design and build things, refine their craft. For somewhere that 30 artists set up studios, the creative hub Flameworks doesn’t look like an artists’ colony. It’s half steampunk lair, half Santa’s workshop, where blacksmiths beat steel alongside artists working on elfin, gemlike glass creations. Of course, the whole place runs on tea. I shared a pot with members Amy Whittingham, Jenny Ayrton and Toni Fairhead – as megayachts were winched from water to warehouse outside, we found what heat we could in Toni’s studio and drank from handmade ceramic teacups as I heard about Flameworks’ latest last-minute project.

“It happened because I was having a conversation about how the building which Flameworks normally did their Christmas craft fair on the Barbican in had been sold, so it didn’t look like there was going to be one this year and it was getting too late to organise anything.” Amy explains. Hearing this, Richard at Teign Valley Glass immediately suggested that Flameworks could have a section for a weekend to exhibit their crafts, and market it as the first joint project between the two.

A former member himself and running Teign Valley Glass at the House of Marbles complex with other ex-Flameworks staff, Richard’s go-ahead was all the three organisers needed. It was that simple, Amy confesses: “I have this problem where I say yes to things before working out how we’re actually going to manage.”

Nicky Noble Ceramic work

Nicky Noble Ceramic work

Does that mean that the Flameworks studios have been even busier than usual as artists produce enough stock for a last-minute show? Well, yes. Toni tells me “given that opportunity we had to pick it up – there was never a case of us saying it was too late, and the response has been really positive about going into a professional space”. Following a successful series of open days that drew people into the Flameworks studios, the team are now gearing up for their biggest ever weekend out.

 

“In total we’ve got 20 artists and it’s a selected showcase – exhibits are invite only and we invited ex-members with new projects to join us there too, so it’s all to very high standards.” The organisers are clearly very happy with the selection, and from the previews they show me it’s clear that every base is covered. Ceramics, glass, wood and metal creations abound, from impossibly delicate multicoloured glass pieces to what’s billed as “biggish steel sculptures” that might need you to fold the back seats down before you drive home.

Luke Aweworthy Pewter and Glass

Luke Aweworthy Pewter and Glass

There’s also a very rare opportunity to blow your own bauble, vase or tumbler on a bench with help from a professional. Even full-time artists travel a long way to use the facilities at Teign Valley Glass, so to be able to turn up and try it for half an hour is brilliant. Advance booking is required, and there’s a £30 charge so it pays to at least try and make a tumbler that won’t leak whisky. Call 01626 835285 if you’re interested.

All three are looking forward to seeing more public reaction to what they make all year round, and there’s definite optimism about what might lead on from here. Between sips of tea in a not yet warm studio, Toni explains how important it is for makers to take their work beyond the normal audience. The showcase isn’t just about displaying the art. Jenny enthuses about the interactions between artist and audience too.

“On Sunday we’re doing a Meet The Makers session as well as the glassblowing – it’s nice for people coming and visiting to discuss where the work came from and hear the story behind it as well, especially if it’s a gift for somebody at Christmas”. All three agree that hearing what we think about their work is important too, especially as Flameworks membership has a decent proportion of part-time artists and recent grads looking to establish themselves. It’s this that’s led their recent outreach to Tavistock’s Arts Market and contribution to Devon Open Studios in addition to more longstanding events and engagement opportunities.

Leigh Mason cast glass rings

Leigh Mason cast glass rings

It’s the scale of what Flameworks is planning that’s as impressive as the quality, given the tight timescale they’re all working to. “I don’t think we’re going to realise it until we’re packing everything up on the Sunday evening!” Jenny smiles with the face of a woman who knows that next Monday morning will be blissful rest compared to the weekend before it.

All the members have put extra time into this weekend, either producing stock or – more strangely for artists – learning about online marketing, promotions and the frankly unenviable logistics of trying to be in two places at the same time. As we empty the teapot and reduce a box marked “EAT ME!” to crumbs, Amy gets up to go and design glass shelving for the showcase. I’m surprised – how long does that take? “I’m not sure”, she smiles wryly. “But we’ve got a few days yet.”

www.flameworks.org