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Art Editorial

21glass19.jpg Look who’s just turned 21

The National Glass Centre is one of the real jewels in the north-east cultural crown, and they’re celebrating their 21stbirthday in fine style with ‘NGC 21’ an exhibition that tells the story of the city’s role in the growth of the International Studio Glass movement.

When you think about Sunderland and it’s proud heritage people often talk about shipbuilding and mining. (I myself like to think about Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ – there are multiple links between Wearside and Carroll and if you want irrefutable proof then check out Bryan Talbot’s brilliant graphic novel ‘Alice in Sunderland’.)

But Sunderland also has a very strong bond with glass and it didn’t just happen with the opening of the National Glass Centre 21 years ago. Indeed, Sunderland’s connection with glass-making dates back to – get this! – the seventh century (SEVENTH!). That’s when Benedict Biscop brought glaziers over from Gaul to make the first known stained-glass window anywhere in the country for St. Peter’s monastery in Monkwearmouth.

Into the 20th century glass-making was an important industry for Sunderland through companies such as Hartley Wood and Co Ltd and James A Jobling & Co Ltd, who made Pyrex glass.

So Sunderland was the perfect fit for the National Glass Centre, which opened in 1998 on the north banks of the Wear, fittingly enough, close to the site of St. Peter’s Church, which kicked off the whole glass connection all those centuries ago.

This heritage has inspired one of the newly-commissioned pieces for ‘NGC 21’ from Erin Dickinson, who completed her PhD at University of Sunderland in 2015. Her stunning pieces ‘New Jobling Ware’ was inspired by the designs of A Jobling & Co Ltd, and Sunderland Association Football Club, and to celebrate her work, Dickinson took a set of her glasses to the Colliery Tavern pub, opposite the Stadium of Light, to allow SAFC fans to toast the Black Cats with a unique piece of art.

She is just one of many featured artists included in the exhibition, which looks at the role the city played in the growth of the International Studio Glass movement. It includes work by founders and innovators including Erwin Eisch from Germany and Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová from the Czech Republic, alongside the work by outstanding graduates of the University of Sunderland including Dickson and Jade Tapson.

Julia Stephenson, NGC’s Head of Arts: “The exhibition includes pieces by more individual artists than any other presented at National Glass Centre in recent times and we are proud to say we have worked with enough creative glassmakers of international calibre over the last 21 years to be able to fill our gallery spaces twice over.”

A key piece of work in the NGC 21 exhibition is a 2.5m-wide mirrored ‘portrait’ of National Glass Centre, created by Jeffrey Sarmiento, Associate Professor at University of Sunderland.

Aerial drone footage of the centre’s glass-topped roof was used as a template for the wall-mounted design, which was then created in the studio using a waterjet cutter to shape its multiple components. “The artist hopes the audience will be able to see themselves reflected in the work as part of the community which makes National Glass Centre such a local landmark,” explained Stephenson.There are far too many artists taking part in the exhibition to list them all here, but the best advice I can give you is to swing by the show and check them all out for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

NGC 21, until 15 September, National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Sunderland. The exhibition is open every day from 10am-5pm. Admission and parking are both free. nationalglasscentre.com