Glass sculpture by Jessamy Kelly

Jessamy Kelly

by Angie Boyer

Winner of the craft&design; Selected Gold Award 2009: Glass; and craft&design; Selected Maker of the Year 2009

Even with our meticulous planning and attention to timing, the secret of who had won our top 2009 Award slipped out and reached the media before our winner actually heard the news herself! It was a reporter from the Sunderland Echo who inadvertently spilt the beans, Jessamy took their call asking her for an interview just moments before reading our email notifying her of her success.  

There are two parts to our Awards; firstly the designer maker will have submitted images of their work and been accepted by us to be featured in our Selected online gallery. That in itself means that all the work entered for our Awards is of the high, professional standard that we are looking for.

The next stage is the public vote, which is open for everyone to vote online for the makers of their choice. For designer makers, this is perhaps the most challenging part, putting their work forward for public approval.

Jessamy’s success has been two fold - not only did she receive the most votes in the Glass Category, winning the Gold Award there, she also won the largest number of votes overall and takes the title of craft&design Selected Maker of the Year 2009.

The sentiment behind our national Awards was to create an inspiring and rewarding project for the UK craft industry at a time when the national media was full of doom and gloom; a positive focal point for everyone involved with and interested in crafts. How fitting it is then, that Jessamy has won our Award at a time when she is also gaining recognition for her ground breaking work she’s undertaken for the PhD that she’s just completed at the University of Sunderland. Her substantial research into ceramics and glass has created quite a stir in the industry, Jessamy has managed to achieve what many considered to be the impossible - combining the two materials in a hot state to create a unique piece of work.

“There are lots of overlaps between ceramics and glass, they have many common qualities: processed in similar ways they are often transformed into functional or decorative objects,” explains Jessamy. “The qualities of the materials when light passes through them to reveal their inner luminosity inspires me to combine them and to examine their relationship in my studio work.”

As a result of this studio work, Jessamy’s research has resulted in entirely new information on the subject and the development of innovative techniques.

“Very few artists work in both materials, and whilst my thesis presents substantial, specialist reading, I hope that it will have an impact on future practices for artists working in glass and ceramics.”

Chatting with Jessamy, it becomes evident that she has a naturally inquisitive mind, an eagerness to explore, develop and discover. “I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge,” she says. “I gained my BA here in Sunderland in 2001, I was the only person on the course who was permitted to specialise in both ceramics and glass - my current interests have probably all flowed from there.”

She then went on to complete her MA in Glass Product Design at Edinburgh College of Art, which involved an industrial design placement at Edinburgh Crystal. Jessamy continues, “I worked there as an in-house glass designer for several years, until the factory closed after a major fire in 2006. Initially I was rather anxious that, as a designer, I would be handing over the actual contact and making elements of the work, but in fact having people in the factory making up my designs was like having an extra 20 pairs of hands to work with! It gave me the opportunity and freedom to broaden my designs, to research and develop ideas within Edinburgh Crystal’s production facilities, allowing a creative and experimental approach within the reality of a commercial environment. I learnt a great deal at that time, especially from the people who made the glass in the factory there.”

It was at Edinburgh Crystal that Jessamy met Joanne Mitchell and in 2006 the two glass artists joined forces to set up Juo Ltd, creating contemporary fused art glass for galleries and private commissions. “Together, we produce a lot of work for public buildings,” explains Jessamy, “colourful, specially designed pieces for corporate commissions. We’re both designers as well as glass artists, which gives us a unique insight into the requirements of our customers, interpreting their ideas in a way which will match their budgets. We learnt a lot about costings at Edinburgh Crystal,  developing cost effective production to meet a definite price point; we design and launch new ranges for Juo every six months.”

For both Jessamy and Joanne, Juo plays an important and successful role as “a practice that supports our further practice,” allowing them both to take an entirely different path with their own studio work.

With creativity in the family - Jessamy’s twin sister is a designer for a fashion house in Amsterdam, her father is an art teacher and her mother is “good with colour”, Jessamy’s creative talents might well be expected. But what is perhaps more difficult to grasp is her ability to wear so many different hats so readily. Not only does she have the dual aspect to her glass work, she’s also busily involved with a number of organisations and companies. Her clients include Kevin McCloud’s Furniture & Homeware brand ‘Place’, she co-curated delightindesign at the Design&Made Gallery in Newcastle and is a board member of Cohesion Glassmakers’ Network as well as the Scottish Glass Society.

“Shortly after I joined the Scottish Glass Society there was a call for Board Members,” she recalls. “I originally volunteered as Press Officer and then moved on to organising exhibitions as well. That’s quite involved - I have to contact artists, come up with a theme, arrange everything for the exhibition catalogue, sort out the PR... there’s always a lot to do.

“In 2009 we were delighted to receive £5,000 funding from the Scottish Arts Council towards our exhibition ‘Migrate’, the SGS 30th year anniversary show featuring work by the best emerging and established Scottish glass artists. The funding has really made a difference, it enabled us to tour the exhibition and we’ve already had a fabulous response from the Highland galleries. ‘Migrate’ is now showing at the Broadfield House Museum in the West Midlands until 21 March, the first exhibition of Scottish Glass to ever show there, it’s really exciting to be at such as prestigious venue.”

Jessamy says that her work is inspired by “organic and naturally repeating forms.” Her proximity to the coast is evident in the echoes of tidal patterns formed in the sand that appear in her work. Simple and elegant in style, Jessamy’s glass can be appreciated by a wider audience than ever now, thanks to her work being featured in ‘The C Word’, the first ever cinema campaign to promote craft. An initiative led by craftsscotland and The Scottish Arts Council, the premier of ‘The C Word’ advertisement for contemporary craft was held recently at the Curzon Cinema in London and commanded an impressive guest list, who later had the opportunity to purchase the work featured in a silent auction. The commendable aim of the campaign is to raise the profile of makers and their craft, to encourage potential buyers to become craft supporters, and to bring a sense of pride to the C word - Craft!

Now Jessamy is taking the next step in her exciting career, as Artist in Residence for the coming year at Edinburgh College of Art. Her success in our craft&design Selected Awards has resulted in some enviable publicity as well as two new exhibitions, one at the National Glass Centre, to celebrate her success and another with the Seascape Gallery.

“A lot has happened in a short time for me,” says Jessamy. “Things seem to have worked together, I’ve been very lucky.”

Actually, there may have been an element of luck involved, but I’d say that she’s worked very hard for her success as well - congratulations Jessamy!

Jessamy Kelly, Juo Ltd,
National Glass Centre,
Liberty Way, Sunderland SR6 0GL

M: 07950 627 264

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