skip to Main Content

WHEN THE GLASS IS HALF FULL: Scottish Maritime Museum Announces Glass Ships in Bottles Exhibition

Scottish Maritime Museum Announces

Glass Ships in Bottles Exhibition 

The Linthouse, Irvine Harbourside

Saturday 11 September – Sunday 9 January 2022

A collection of 150 vintage glass ships in bottles and new glass artworks go on show at the Scottish Maritime Museum on Irvine Harbourside, Ayrshire, on Saturday 11 September.

The Glass Ships in Bottles exhibition, which runs until 9 January 2022, has been 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 England 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.

Announcing the exhibition, Nicola Scott Exhibition and Events Officer at the Scottish Maritime Museum, says:

Carving wooden ships for glass bottles can be traced back to the mid 19th century but the scientific glass blowers working at the end of the 20th century took it to a new level with these beautifully crafted glass vessels.

“Dr Tani’s passion for keeping this endangered craft alive shines through this wonderful collection of original glass ships in bottles, some donated and some rescued from car boot sales.

“Her artworks are created through the scientific skill of lampworking, which is used in making glass ships in bottles. She learned the skill to create her own artworks but also to pass the skill on to younger generations. We hope visitor leave Glass Ships in Bottles with new found appreciation of this stunning craft.”

The makers of glass ships in bottles were based in Lymington, Sudbury, Birmingham, Dudley, Lichfield and Sunderland. Production was particularly big in Sunderland, a shipbuilding city with a glass-making tradition dating back to Anglo-Saxon monks making stained-glass windows. Here scientific glassblowers coming out of the local Pyrex factory, James A. Jobling, established studios to continue the art of creating glass ships in bottles.

Working painstakingly on the detailed designs, the glassblowers blew each segment of the ship separately. Then, fusing the hull to a glass plinth they built the vessel up piece by piece before finally blowing the surrounding bottle.

Glass Ships in Bottles is included in Museum admission.

 Up to three children go FREE with each Adult Admission.

Back To Top