Ruth Allen is a contemporary glass artist and maker based in Melbourne, after finding glass at a young age Ruth has dedicated the last 30 years to exploring the highly versatile and malleable material.
In 2010 she bought a large 430 square studio in Coburg North to experiment on new designs and make everything from jewellery and ornamental pieces to vases, pendant lights and chandeliers.
Best-known for her vivid, and elegant lighting range. Each piece has a sculptural value and could be considered a piece of art, adding instant character to any room.
The movement created by the flowing lines in her chandeliers is an excellent example of how glass provides the perfect material qualities to form such organic shapes.
Ruth has opened her studio doors to other glassmakers, designers who wish to collaborate and discuss their ideas, and also those interested in learning the craft. By setting up a Community Cultural Development program, Ruth wishes to pass on her expert knowledge and skill-set in the hope that it will preserve the ancient art of working with hot glass.
If you think about glass like honey and if I wanted to gather some honey out of the pot, I would put my honey mandrel in and I would turn it and I would keep it moving and glass works very much in the same way, it’s a liquid.
In a society where we want instant knowledge, instant feedback and instant gratification, working with glass breaks this modern idea that we’ve all grown accustomed to. To work with hot glass is not a casual relationship, you need to invest time and years to really master it, Ruth worked with glass for a decade before she got to a level of understanding where the process was ingrained as body memory and knowing what to do next became automatic.
Watching Ruth and her team working was like watching a performance or a dance, there was a rhythm to it; everyone knew where to stand, what their role was and how to read each other without really talking! As they started there was a definite ‘game on’ attitude and for the next five minutes, everyone had the same goal.
The process was fast, hot, and mesmerising, beginning with the initial heating of glass to form a basic shape, followed by the repetition of blowing, reshaping, reheating, doing it again and again until the form was just right. It was an ongoing conversation between the material and the artist, pushing and pulling, with a plethora of things that could go wrong and not much time to reflect, you needed to work quickly because the cooling of glass waits for no one.
As we watched from the sidelines we watched in awe, Ruth is undeniably a master at her trade, but what is unfortunate is that her trade is considered a dying art. Glass blowing is an amazing technique that has endured the test of time, however like many things in this modern-day mass production era, glasswork has lost traction. Young people entering Tertiary education won’t have the opportunity to study it because glass subjects have been replaced with things like 3D printing. No matter how much automatisation can create objects that are almost ‘perfect’ in their replication, it will never replace the soul and care given to a handmade object. Nor will it allow us to find the true satisfaction that only comes when working at a skill and enduring all the mishaps and mistakes for years to only years later finally get to a level of mastery!
We applaud Ruth’s efforts not only as an artist but and as an advocate for her craft. Her dedication in sharing her space and knowledge to help keep the art alive and pass it on to future generations is something worth admiring.
Photography by: Caspian Moore