As we have gotten older, it has gotten harder to buy gifts for my family, and we now prefer to buy experiences over materials items unless someone specifically would like something. And when my sister gave me a voucher to do a glass beading making class with Graham Reid I was delighted! I love glass work as find it so fascinating that you can ‘melt’ and shape the material into any shape that you see fit. I also love glass mobiles as they are something a little different, and can add a beautiful element to a room.
Graham Reid is based just 15 minutes from Sligo town, so when I was home for Easter it was such a fantastic way to spend Saturday morning. He is based in the rural countryside, and to be honest, it was idyllic. We took country roads up to his workshop, and as soon as you arrive you are welcomed with open arms.
A note has to be said on his simply stunning home and workshop. He brought his land that had within it the ruins of an 200-year-old cottage and then 3 donkey barns. His architectural skills certainly came in handy, as he has completely renovated all 4 building to make a beautiful home with very functional workshop complete with extractor fans. I was blown away by how he renovated the buildings, he kept all the old walls and then build up from then so inside the walls are exposed and so beautiful. I love old cottages and it is amazing with what can be done with them in the right hands.
When we arrived at the studio, Sculptural Glass Artist Graham talked me through how he got started into glass making and it was fascinating. He is originally from South Africa, with his grandparents being from Ireland. He moved to America from SA and started studying architecture at Massachusetts College of Art, he took glassblowing as an elective and subsequently switched to sculptural glass. In Ireland, he then went on to study further in NCAD. It was the wilds of the West that then drew him to Sligo and set up both home and studio there. He first started with his Knockbeg Glass Studios, where he created and taught under the name Glóine Eíreann. Since then he has gone on to set up his own brand where he creates wonderful sculptural pieces and also teaches glassblowing at Leitrim Sculpture Centre and also at his own workshop at home.
Before we started we spoke about the history of glassmaking and how glass is actually made. He is so passionate about his craft, and that is certainly contagious. He knows so much about the subject from the history of glass blowing to all the different types and makes of glass all the way through to the different temperatures that different classes crack at, and I loved learning from an expert – I asked him 101 questions and he could answer them all! One thing that I found fascinating was that the coloured Murano glass that we used are actually coloured using different metals.
The class is 2.5hours long, and within that time I learned all about the history of glass making (which is much more interesting than you would initially think!), and then a demonstration is given by Graham on how to use the glass and the flames to create a beautiful bead at the end.
To explain in a very simple way how we created the beads, we use a specialist flame-working torch (fuelled by propane and oxygen), to melt the top of one of the Murano Glass rods onto a clay coated mandrel (a steel rods you twist and wind the molten glass onto to make beads) and then built up the bead from there. You continuously heat and twist both the mandrel that you are building you bead onto as well which sounds so easy, but when you are also focused on the flame, twisting etc. it is not that easy! There is certainly a skill in being able to do this without getting stressed. I also managed to explode at least two different parts of the glass, which in itself was quite impressive.
I loved that I also had something to take home with me. There is actually nothing better than bringing something home that you have made yourself. It also really makes you appreciate the amount of skill and time that goes into making home-made pieces.
And would I recommend going to one of Graham’ classes? Well, that is a firm YES. I really enjoyed my time there and would love to go back again. Actually, thinking of taking my other half as think he would enjoy it as well! The classes are 2.5 hours long and cost €75. If you would like to learn more you can check out Graham’s website here or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook and Instagram and if you looking for a unique gift then I would certainly recommend checking out his work.
You can see more about making Murano Glass Beads here: