Hart & glass
PUBLISHED: 09:51 17 November 2015 | UPDATED: 09:51 17 November 2015
Tessa Allingham goes inside the studio of glass artist Laura Hart
Laura Hart carefully lifts a (double) layer of Blitz kitchen roll. Under the bumpy sheet lies an exquisite piece of multi-coloured glass fashioned into a butterfly wing. It’s a royally-rich shade of blue, shot through with fine black veins, rimmed with a ripple of black, breathtaking even before Laura holds it up to the window and lets sun pour through the glass.
“It’s a Palos Verdes,” she explains. “An Italian lady has commissioned me to make a pair.”
Under the next piece of Blitz is the magnificent swallowtail shape of a Kaiser-i-Hind, a species fighting extinction in northern India. Laura lays its dark orange, green and black wings carefully next to the transparent, foxy red-tipped Glasswing, a South American butterfly, before lifting out a vividly-coloured Caribbean blue Periander Metalmark, and a bold orange and black Monarch. The wings of all the butterflies are made from fused glass, the segmented bodies cast in pâte de verre, the jointed legs created out of sterling silver. Each creation, down to fine hairs on the legs is anatomically correct and takes weeks to complete.
Laura’s studio table is suddenly awash with colour, shape, beauty and – weirdly – life. She folds her long legs (she has modelled in her time) back round her swivel-stool, vapes, slugs on some coffee. “These butterflies are all endangered. The message in my art is one of conservation. Everyone wants to save tigers and rhinos but it’s the smaller things, insects and flowers, that are essential to our eco system. If we ignore these then the tigers and rhinos will disappear too.”
Laura displays the butterflies in special glass cabinets, as if in a dusty museum, but there are no pins through them, their legs are intact and their wings are in a flight position so they look alive.
“The fact that they are made of glass reinforces the idea of fragility, as does the fact that I only ever make one of each. But if you beat the conservation drum too hard you’ll drive people away, so I hope people like my butterflies as much for their beauty as for anything else!” Once this collection is complete Laura plans to move on to bees and dragonflies, no doubt to continue to bang, albeit gently, the eco drum.
Midlands-born and Suffolk raised, but sounding more Aussie than anything (her father’s family were ‘ten pound poms’ back in the 70s, she explains, and her parents are just back from nine years living in Melbourne) Laura attended classes at the Northlands Creative Glass school in the Scottish Highlands. Prior to focusing on glass art, however, she designed stage sets for pop stars (the giant skull in Kylie Minogue’s 2008 X tour, was her creation) and vast and often highly technical 3D props for sporting events such as the 60’ wingspan falcon for the Meydan World Cup horse races in Dubai.
She is a curious mix – part committed environmentalist and hippy eco-warrior (“artists, we’re all scruffy gits” she laughs, a wide smile framed by gorgeously wild hair, and indicating her well-loved tie-dye t-shirt and jeans), part talented artist, pernickety, she admits, to the point of OCD. Shards of glass are stored in little drawers on her studio shelves, carefully labelled by colour – black opal, canary yellow, Caribbean blue – while washed-out Onken yogurt and Waitrose Thai green curry chicken soup pots house enough marker pens and Staedtler HB pencils, all tips down, to keep the busiest of artists supplied.
Her glass artist’s machinery is incongruously hefty given the delicacy of the end result. A ferocious kiln, diamond-tipped grinders, fine-tipped drills, tile cutters and ring saws are used to cut the butterfly shapes, fuse sections of coloured glass together, insert the legs and smooth off edges. The exquisite butterflies follow on from a collection of complex glass orchids.
“Vessel Gallery in Notting Hill sold the whole orchid collection, then the same thing happened with my first five butterflies which went to an American collector within 24 hours of going on display.” At £2,000 apiece, that’s quite something.
“I don’t like the selling side, so I’m glad to have Vessel and other galleries such as the Hunter Gallery in Long Melford and the Sculpt Gallery in Colchester as well as ones in Oxford and York as my shop windows.” Laura’s pieces are extraordinary; would that they could take real as well as metaphorical flight.
To see Laura’s work and discuss commissions go to www.hartglass.com