fbpx skip to Main Content

An Endangered Craft: The Wonders of Working with Glass

A window into a career working with glass

The Scottish Maritime Museum’s latest exhibition Glass Ships in Bottles by Ayako Tani showcases an array of vintage glass ships and reveals their unexpected origin. Many of the UK creators of these unique objects originally began as scientific glassblowers. As highlighted by The Heritage Craft Association, scientific glassblowing is an endangered profession, with currently fewer than fifty scientific glassblowers employed in the UK.

Glass is a versatile and beautiful material that lends itself to many uses. We talk about a career working with glass with the people who have helped shape this exhibition and its accompanying events programme. Over the last six months they have produced contemporary glass artworks, hosted glassblowing demonstrations and run stained glass workshops at the Museum.


Dr Ayako Tani with artwork ‘City of Adelaide’, 2017 photo by Jo Howell

Name:  Dr Ayako Tani

Job:  Glass Artist and practise-based researcher based at the National Glass Centre, Sunderland

How long have you been working with glass?

About 15 years. I started beadmaking in 2004 while working full-time as a computer system engineer in Japan.

In 2006, I came to Sunderland to study glass at the University of Sunderland. I was initially enrolled in BA Glass and Ceramics course, but after one year, I moved to the MA course. I graduated from MA in 2008 and continued onto PhD research in Sunderland. The flexibility at the University of Sunderland (accepting non-art background student and allowing me to quickly move to MA) was very helpful to change my career in a relatively short period. I firstly exhibited my work at the British Glass Biennale in 2008, and the piece was collected by the Broadfield House Glass Museum. This first experience was very encouraging!

What do you enjoy about working with this material?

Glass connected me to the international glass communities in different counties, as well as local people in Sunderland. Whilst speaking to visitors at the National Glass Centre, I learnt a lot about the local Pyrex glass industry in Sunderland. My research project, ‘Vessels in Memory’, in which I collected oral histories from glass ships in bottles makers, emerged from encounters.

I am fascinated by the mass-less character of clear glass. Clear glass is sometimes striking and sometimes almost invisible depending the light, and I am fascinated by this trans-dimensional character.

‘Ghost’, 2010 by Dr Ayako Tani.  “This is one of my calligraphic works. I used molten clear glass as a kind of ink. I am interested in how I could capture my hand’s movement in the line of glass.”



Robert McLeod’s glassblowing demonstration at the Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine

Name:  Robert McLeod

Job:  Scientific Glassblower at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre based in East Kilbride and current Chair of the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers

How long have you been working with glass?

I have been working with glass for forty-six years, and I’m still learning!

I started training as a scientific Glassblower with I.C.I, a company that is no longer in existence. Initially joined the company to become a lab technician but when offered a position in the glassblower’s workshop I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with glass.

What do you enjoy about working with this material?

Working the glass in the hot flame, turning it into something functional is both a science and an art form. Taking an idea from a scientist, who needs a certain piece of glass equipment for an experiment. and turning into a functioning piece of glassware gives one a real sense of achievement and purpose.

Robert has worked as a scientific glassblower for nearly five decades.



Glass artist Eilidh MacKenzie has worked as a part time lecturer at City of Glasgow College for 15 years.

Name:  Eilidh MacKenzie

Job:  Glass Artist and Lecturer of HNC Art Glass at City of Glasgow College

How long have you been working with glass?

For over 20 years. I am a contemporary designer maker who also works in professional restoration and conservation. As well as running my own company, my experience includes working collaboratively with and for other glass professionals including Liz Rowley, with whom I served my apprenticeship and worked with for 14 years.

What do you enjoy about working with this material?

The main inspirations for my artworks are found in the medium of glass itself. It’s so magical – colours, textures, the play of light on the surfaces. Combining this with all things transitory – clouds, sunsets, fire, rainbows, emotions; and, of course, the beauty of the natural world, primarily flora.

St Mary’s commemorative window – Stained glass, central panel of a triptych, 2021. The focal point of the central panel is the image of Mary and Jesus, a picture provided for inclusion by the school, drawn by a pupil.


‘Ships in Glass Bottles by Ayako Tani’ runs until Sunday 9th January 2022 and City of Glasgow College HNC Art Glass exhibiton ‘Clear Creations: Maritime Inspired Glass Art’ runs until Janaury 2022.

For more details about about the exhibtions, upcoming workshops and demonstrations,  please visit our Exhibitionand Event pages.



Back To Top
Skip to content