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Katharine Coleman

by Helen Johnson

Published: July 2007

Katharine Coleman has work in many prestigious collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, and is delighted to be leading a workshop in July this year at the Escuela del Vidrio at San Ildefonso de La Granja in Spain. Katharine has won numerous awards, culminating last year in the prize ‘Honourable Mention’ at the Coburg Glass Prize 2006, hosted in Germany.

It hasn’t always been like this, she says. “I didn’t have an arts background and if I rang a gallery and asked to send images, they’d ask what I did, and when I said, ‘glass engraving’, the phone would go down.” Katharine trained from 1984 to 1987 at Morley College, Lambeth. After that, she says, “I had no trouble selling my work. In the 1990s, I was aware that I was producing work of real interest, but I felt that without the right college background, maybe including the Royal College of Art, there was simply no way of breaking into the contemporary glass scene.” Her big break, she says, “was the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 2003 – and I didn’t even win it. But I was shortlisted and that enabled my work to be seen in a different way. The touring show was brilliant.”

The Jerwood prize is run in collaboration with the Crafts Council, and Katharine says that many things came from it. “Because of Jerwood, the Crafts Council saw my work and did a feature in ‘Crafts’ magazine in July 2004. The editor sent me a kind email saying that they thought I’d suffered from ‘considerable lack of exposure’ in previous years.” “I think they helped a lot,” says Katharine. “The Crafts Council can’t cover everything for everyone, but I feel they’re good at helping people to become known. Once you’re firmly established, you’re lucky if they mention you again, but that’s fair enough – I think they’re right to focus on emerging people.”

Katharine also believes that it was because of Jerwood that she was accepted for Chelsea the next year. “There,” she says, “Adrian Sassoon awarded me his Prize for Arts of the Kiln.” She was also noticed by Adam Aaronson. “Between them, Sassoon and Aaronson have done an enormous amount to promote my work,” she says. “But then it was only because of Jerwood that they noticed me. ‘Following the Jerwood, the Crafts Council also selected me for a research visit to Japan. It gave me insights into collections in Japan which were key to a whole new body of work. I think the good thing is that it shows that Jerwood and the Crafts Council were open-minded, they don’t always go for people with the ‘right’ track record.”

Katharine adds, “I’m 58 now and fifteen years ago, I’d have loved to have done University, but they wouldn’t let me in then.” Despite the hurdles, Katharine is glad she changed career. She says, “my previous work never gave me the satisfaction that this does. But it took me another 15 years to get going – finding your voice takes time. So once I found my voice, I wanted to get going pretty quickly. Jerwood gave me three intense and exciting years – sufficient to ensure a huge progress.” The great irony is that Katharine nearly didn’t enter the competition. She was distracted by moving house and only entered at the last minute, after a friend recommended it. “Then,” says Katharine, “the letter telling me I’d been shortlisted went astray in the post. The first I knew was when the Crafts Council rang, wanting a studio visit. I had to persuade the removal men to stop packing up my studio. But it was all worth it.”

She adds, “When you start, you produce a wide range of things that don’t necessarily hang together. Then suddenly, you find this rich seam and realise ‘this is it.’ Then, apply for anything – don’t give up. We all get there in the end.”

Katharine Coleman:
T: 07976 812 660

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