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Glass Ships in Bottles by Ayako Tani

Saturday 11 September 2021 – Sunday 9 January 2022

A collection of 150 vintage glass ships in bottles and new glass artworks go on show for the first time in Scotland at the Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine.

The Glass Ships in Bottles exhibition curated by Dr Ayako Tani, a glass artist and researcher specialising in the industrial and cultural history of glassmaking at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

The exhibition of exquisite glass ships tells a remarkable story of ingenuity. Faced with redundancy following the decline of heavy industry in the 1970s, highly skilled scientific glassblowers in the UK combined their experience making laboratory apparatus in an open flame with artistic flair to create and sell glass ships in bottles.

A boom in demand ensued and, by the 1990s, tens of thousands of these intricate glass ships were in production. Sadly, growing popularity led to mass-production which, although successful at first, brought about a drop in quality. The craft finally disappeared from the UK in 2005 when the last manufacturer outsourced work to China.

The modern skill of scientific glassblowing, which is sometimes referred to as lampworking, began with the invention of robust Borosilicate glass in the 1880s. Today, there are less than a hundred scientific glassblowers left in the UK and the skill is recognised as ‘Endangered’ by the Heritage Crafts Association.

The Glass Ships in Bottles exhibition also includes ‘Vessels in Memory’, an oral history and art project featuring filmed conversations with former scientific glassblowers who describe their work.

Also on show are brand new artworks by Dr Ayako Tani, inspired by the heritage of glass ships in bottles and the skills of scientific glassblowing.

Photographs by Jo Howell

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