by Liz Tagert
Published: January 2015
Will Shakspeare, Shakspeare Glass
When I arrive at Will Shakspeare’s new glass studio in Langport, Somerset, he has just finished making finials for a mixed media commission. Lots and lots of finials. He must finish another large piece before we can talk, so I take the opportunity to look around the recently established gallery and café also on the premises. The gallery not only showcases his work, but also that of other glassmakers and artists. When I return to watch him work with his two assistants, Will is clearly totally immersed in the process.
The scale of the operation and the intensity he displays whilst making, reflect the range of his skills. He is both businessman and artist, although he might object to the division, as clearly for him, they are two sides of the same coin.
When I ask how he came to be a glassblower, Will tells me that he signed up for a pottery class so he could pursue a girl who had taken his fancy. However, when she gave up pottery he carried on and eventually opted to do a ceramics course at Farnham in Surrey. Glassblowing as a subject was only beginning to take hold in the sixties, but he was able to take it as a support course and soon it was obvious that this was going to be his medium.
The decision was not only driven by artistic considerations though. Will is nothing if not grounded. “I come from Somerset where there is a potter around every corner. At that time most of them were struggling…”
So the decision to switch to the glassmaking course was in fact quite strategic. It also turned out to be a serendipitous one as the glassmaking course he had originally started as a support course was now being validated in its own right. Then, as he was the only person to sign up for the course, Will found himself as a sole student being taught by two highly skilled makers, Annette Meech and Chris Williams.
“Annette taught me how to make a bowl and a jug, a vase and a goblet. Then at lunchtime I would go to the pub with Chris and we would say, “What shall we make this afternoon? Let’s make something really big or really long or really silly. The funny thing is that that working pattern has stayed with me. That is, production in the morning and then making things I want to in the afternoon.”
What seems to appeal to Will about glass is partly the challenges it throws up as well as the freedom the medium allows. “I like problem solving,” he says, “but also I feel strongly that I want to do what I want to do and not what someone else has done. Within that, you have to accept what you can do, as it’s a physical craft. In a way, it’s the limitations that make you a craftsman.”
When I ask about what inspires the work Will says, “I find I talk more about the business side rather than the art side. In a way you don’t need to know where the inspiration comes from.” Then he adds a little reluctantly, “It comes from everywhere.” He says he loves rock pools and whenever he drives to the beach with his children, “where the tide goes out is where I will be…”.
Will says he can give me the provenance of every piece of glass in the studio, either as notes, sketches and/or photos. But then his business head emerges again when he says that to some extent the design emanates from having to work to a price. A successful range he made called ‘Crunch’ is in fact, named after the credit crunch.
He seems aghast at the notion that an any self-respecting artist would struggle for inspiration and quotes Picasso, “Bad artists copy, good artists steal.” However, even as he refers to artists, Will vigorously eschews any kind of pigeonholing or elitism. “I don’t really see myself as an artist. I’m just a glassblower… I just blow glass. I don’t believe in art. Beautiful things shouldn’t be called art or craft.”
It sounds iconoclastic until he goes on, “In your house you should have things that you have a connection with… it’s what the object means to you, what you think about it.” What he objects to is the business of the art critic; the idea of someone coming along and deciding what is good art and what is bad. So he does not subscribe to any artistic snobbery about what he produces. Will is as happy to make an inexpensive pendant for teenage girl who wants a present for her mother as he is to produce large wallpieces to commission. “I just make glass and I try to make each piece better than the one I made before.”
Does he still get excited about the process? Well, yes, especially the next thing. After a year of setting up the new studio and gallery in Langport, he relishes the prospect of making new things. He has a collection of designs in his notebooks. He is not quite sure how he will do them yet, but that’s the point for him. It’s the how as much as the why. “That’s a vital part of the whole thought process. It’s never final.” With the new set-up in Langport, Will is well placed to pursue whatever thing it is that he feels inspired to do.
For more information, including details of stockists: www.shakspeareglass.co.uk
Riverside Place, Taunton TA1 1JJ
T: 01823 333422
Open 10-5 Mon to Fri and 9-5 Sat.
Great Western House, Westover, Langport TA10 9RB
T: 01458 252477
Open 10-5 Mon to Sat.
Gallery, Factory Shop, Coffee Shop and Workshop