Peter Layton’s London Glassblowing Studio
London Glassblowing Studio was set up by Peter Layton as a hot glass studio in 1976, and it remains one of the few places in the UK where hand-blown glass is created. All work is free-blown, ensuring the individuality of each piece. The glass artists that have worked here include Anna Dickinson, Candice-Elena Evans, David Flower, Yoshiko Okada and Siddy Langley – many setting up later their own workshops.
Located in Bermondsey Street in south-east London, its open frontage draws in curious passersby. You walk through the shop to the Glass Art Gallery, and then in the double-height studio at the back, you watch glassmakers at work – stretching the molten glass, drawing it into threads, fusing, bending and moulding it in the kiln.
The studio has a reputation for experimenting with colour, form and texture. Back in the 70s, Peter Layton knew he had to draw people in through the extraordinary qualities of the medium. He experimented with finding a way in which the glass would glow without fancy lightning. He is one of the Europe’s most respected glass artists with collectors ranging from Elton John to Duchess of Kent.
Self-taught as a glassmaker, Peter Layton aims to draw in the local community through glass tours and introductory classes in glassblowing. In fact Anthony Scala was enthused by Layton’s weekend workshops as a child, long before he actually joined the studio. Layton is as passionate about his work as ever. His organic, tactile forms have a painterly approach.
Born in Prague and brought up in England, Layton met David Hockney when they were both students at Bradford College of Art. He went on to study ceramics at Central School of Art and Design in London. In 1966 he went to University of Iowa as visiting lecturer in ceramics, just as the studio glass movement was gathering momentum. He enrolled for a glassblowing course and despite seriously burning himself during a session, it was a coup de foudre.
In many ways Layton’s career runs in parallel with the ‘new’ medium of hot glass. When he started his workshop in 1976, there was no market this side of the Atlantic for individual works of glass art. The introduction of ‘small furnace’ technology changed everything. In 1969 he built the first furnace at the Glasshouse in Covent Garden. When he opened his own studio, there was no working capital, so Layton’s overdraft pretty much funded it all. And there was never much time for lunch in near pub, as Peter recalls, because the furnace was blazing away, and the gas bill and rent needed to be met.
It has been a long haul to create a viable audience for contemporary glass, to get the British public to think about anything other than cutglass decanters, Layton admits. But his greatest legacy is launching a family tree of British glass. The business could be more commercial producing cheaper pieces, but, as he says, this would turn it from a studio into a factory.