Glass articles - Glass Makers and Artists




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Ring of Crystal, Ring of Stone




FROM 19th APRIL TO 15th JUNE 1988

©1988 A Aaronson


B. 1949 Edinburgh. M.A. Celtic Studies and Archaeology at Edinburgh University.

Studied glass engraving with Harold Gordon of Forres. Subsequently invited to attend special classes at Edinburgh College of Art by the late Helen Monro Turner. Working freelance since 1971 she has now gained an international reputation and is one of Scotland’s leading glass engravers. She is a member of British Artists in Glass and a Fellow of the Guild of Glass Engravers, and has served on the councils of both the Scottish Craft Centre and the Scottish Society of Women Artists.

In 1979 she was selected by the Crafts Council for their Index of Craftsmen. In 1980 the S.D.A. and Crafts Consultative Committee awarded her a Crafts Fellowship.

Her work may be seen in the collections of the Royal Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh City Museum and Glasgow Art Gallery, and in many private collections, including those of members of the Royal Family. She has exhibited her glass widely in many solo and group exhibitions.

Alison is also recognised as the foremost exponent of traditional Scottish harp music, having given many concert recitals at home and abroad. Three records of her music have been released and have received critical acclaim.

In 1984 she was invited to serve on the BBC’s Broadcasting Council for Scotland. She was awarded the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London’s prize for artistic achievement in glass in 1987.

She is married to Robin Morton, musician and record producer. They have two children.

Ring of Crystal, Ring of Stone

This group of engraved crystal blocks was conceived as a circle of standing stones, and also as a visual interpretation of one of the classic forms of Scottish music. The circle may be read as a continuous line which begins and ends at the larger central block, or each piece may be taken on its own. Each comments on the human form or humanity in general, and each expresses something special about the nature of the glass.

Several of the pieces of crystal show the use of prismatic reflection. The crystal blocks are cut at an angle which catches the natural light and reflects it in a full spectrum of colour. In some pieces the engraving on the facets of the crystal is also highly polished so that it, too, traps the rainbow colours. If these pieces are placed on a turntable in the natural light from a window, the moving facets throw many coloured reflections round the room.

The Music

Alison Kinnaird is also widely recognised as the foremost authority on traditional Scottish harp music. She has produced a book of harp tunes which is the result of fifteen years of research into the old harp music and its historical background. She has also made three critically acclaimed records, and performed widely from Hawaii to Malaysia. She is well-known as a lecturer and teacher on the clarsach, the Scottish harp, and also composes for the instrument, including the music which was made especially for this exhibition.

One of the important forms of traditional Scottish music is the development of a theme through several variations, returning to the theme again. This music is nowadays most widely known as the piobaireachd of the bagpipes - the “ceol mor” or “great music” of that instrument. It is regarded as the most difficult, but also the finest music to be played on the pipes. The clarsach, or Scottish harp, was the other ancient aristocratic instrument played, usually by professional musicians, at the courts of the kings and in the households of the Highland chieftains. It too used the theme and variation form for pieces of significance. They would be composed to mark special occasions - a lament for the death of a nobleman, a victory or defeat in battle, or a welcome to a great feast.

This form of music seemed particularly appropriate to link with the artistic work in this case. The theme - a three-part melody - must be constructed so that the typically Scottish variations may be played on it. They do not relate to the variations which occur in classical composition. The main notes of the melody are taken and gradually decorated with progressively more complicated grace-notes, or are altered rhythmically so that the melody gradually re-emerges. Finally the theme is re-stated.

The basic theme for the crystal is that of the human figure. No matter how it is split up, dismembered, decorated or disguised, the basic humanity will re-emerge in the end. The designs also contain references to the ways in which various cultures have dealt with the human figure - to Celtic, primitive and Renaissance art, to surrealism, myth and legend.

The Technique

Most of the blocks of crystal are specially cut to the artist’s design. The crystal used contains up to 40% lead, which produces a material with particularly fine qualities of softness, clarity and brilliance.

The technique is copper-wheel engraving, an intricate art that over the ages few have been able to master. The crystal is engraved with a small lathe which turns copper wheels on the end of spindles. Each wheel is of a different size and thickness and is filed to produce a "profile" - flat, round, oval or V-shaped - which will make a particular shape of cut when it touches the glass. The crystal is held in the fingers and applied to the wheels from below. The actual grinding is made by carborundum powders, mixed with oil and paraffin, which is applied to the wheel from a small dish between cuts. Various grades of carborundum are used to produce different surface textures, from rough and grainy, to highly polished.

The design is marked on the crystal with ink, roughed out with a large wheel and rough carborundum, then gradually modelled with progressively finer grit until all the detail is finished. The glass must be carefully washed and the design re-drawn in between each grade of grit.

©1988 A Aaronson

The Theme

Glass as a doorway: the beginning and the end. The outline of a figure stands looking through a series of doorways. His character has yet to be filled in. Glass is both a window and a mirror. In more than one sense can one “see through” the figures engraved on its surface. Facing him is another figure. Is it a reflection of himself, or is it his “doppelganger”? His shadow lies across the floor in front of him.
©1988 A Aaronson

The Split Man - Variation 1

The man has the appearance of great strength, yet like the glass itself, he is split by a crack. Perhaps the two sides of his nature are hard to reconcile. Glass, an apparently fragile substance, can also form a barrier which is at the same time transparent but impenetrable. Yet in a moment it can be shattered by a careless blow.

Variation 1

The notes of the theme are taken and decorated with the most simple single grace-note, appropriately called the “cut”.

©1988 A Aaronson

Variation 2 - Trophy Heads

Like the trophies of the Celtic tribes, these disembodied heads decorate the pillar of crystal. Some are realistic representations, some are skull-like, some are blank faces or some are sufficiently transparent to see through them. They float calmly, yet they have been severed. Glass contains an element of danger for anyone working with it. Its beauty conceals its toxic nature, its smooth surface invites a caressing touch, yet the razor sharpness of a shattered edge may be lethal.

Variation 2

The melody notes are again decorated, this time with “doublets” or “shakes”.


Variation 3 - Earth Mother

A female figure lies in a landscape of rolling hills, its form echoing their curves. It lies on the horizon of a tiny world which may be glimpsed through the facet at the end of the crystal block, where rivers, lakes, and fields form an ordered composition. Glass can let the light pass through it, or will contain and reflect it within itself, as a mirror on a harmonious existence.

Variation 3

The “cuts”, doublets and triplets are here combined with a bass drone repeated throughout the variation.

©1988 A Aaronson
©1988 A Aaronson

Variation 4 - Bird Child

Against a background of primitive pattern, the figure of a child is partially seen, melting against the surface of the glass, and decorated with the same atavistic designs. It has the head of a bird, the symbol of the human soul, or is masked to conceal its identity. Like the mask, the tattoo designs are a disguise. They appear to be part of the figure, as the figure appears part of the background.

Variation 4

This variation contains the most complicated of the graces, a sequence known to pipers as a “throw” or a “grip”.

©1988 A Aaronson

Variation 5 - Water Woman

The polished figures of women can be seen against the water-rippled surface of the glass. As glass has within it the intrinsic character of water and ice so the ripples are frozen in motion as they hide the female forms. Like water, the glass is visible, yet invisible. Still liquid, it is constantly on the move, yet its movement can be arrested in a moment.

Variation 5

The decoration of the melody takes the form of a series of downward broken chords, echoing the ripples on the glass.

©1988 A Aaronson

Variation 6 - Obscured Figure

The figure re-emerges through the obscured surface of the glass as if finding his way through a mist. The “Slaves” of Michelangelo remain trapped in the blocks of stone - glass has a liberating quality because it is light. If the figures appear contained within it, it is because they have not looked through the transparent walls to find the way out.

Variation 6

The melody also re-emerges more strongly in this sequence, as a rhythmic dance tune.

The theme is then re-stated.


2008 - Larger versions of the above pieces can be seen in the catalogue here.


©1988 Coleridge. License to reproduce from current copyright holder Adam Aaronson .