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Products of the Imagination: Fantasy in Glass 

Various images collated for the Products of the Imagination exhibition

This popular exhibition closes on the 26th April. The themes of fantasy and the exotic are explored in an exhibition that brings together, for the first time, this fascinating range of glass.

Glassmaking has a rich history of imagining the exotic. From fantastical beasts to classical myths and faraway lands, glassmakers have utilised their skills and creativity to excel at producing vivid imagery to provoke our imagination.

Explore this exhibition and you will find inspiration for your own flight of fancy, but it may also lead you to consider the leap taken by the glassmakers from their drab workplaces to the realms of the exotic.

Glass dragon
Lampwork dragon by Julie Ann Denton, 2014


From out of the Gloom

A glance at this exhibition reveals the beauty created by generations of glassmakers. Admiring their work brings pleasure, but in that admiration we do not consider the gloomy gloomy places where they were made. Imagine a hectic glass works. There are no frills, the work is hot and grubby, the work's buildings are purely functional and sit in a polluted industrial landscape. How did this not sap creativity? 

From Drab to Dream

Clearly it did not. Through such themes as flora and fauna,   they conveyed beautiful visions with breath-taking skill. Yet there is glassware that stands out from these. Inspired by the uninspiring, they took a step beyond the  conventional and chose exotic sources to create images of beasts and lands that take the audience on a flight of fancy. Perhaps the drab environments spurred them to counter what they saw on a daily basis. Did their creators wanted to turn the drab working environment on its head? With imagery of legends, stories and far away lands, these pieces convey that exotic alternative.

bowl decorated with wood nymphs using the 'graal ' technique
An Orrefors bowl decorated with wood nymphs, 1970s


From Ferocious to Fairy

Glassmakers have not only conveyed the exotic with fierce beasts. Gentler creatures are also portrayed. Nymphs are a classical concept with parallels in other cultures. The term now describes a range of nebulous human-like creatures that inhabit nature without a clear function or form. Their classical appearance arose from the Pre-Raphaelites of the Victorian era. Recent imagery has aimed at a natural appearance. In preparing this exhibition we found that mermaids have been a popular choice for glassmakers.  

A Jack Lloyd ruby cased plate made by Tudor Crystal
A Jack Lloyd ruby plate from Tudor Crystal c1930


From the Latin, "Hic Sunt Dracones"

Exotic places are home to exotic creatures. They may be monstrous or enchanting, giant or tiny. Glassmakers have long been interested in such imagery. Thanks to their imagination we can wonder at, if not be thrilled by, the strange creations imprisoned in these cases. Dragons have long captured the imagination of artists. Shrouded in mystery, they reside in far off lands or the edges of the known world. Until the 1700s, Europeans decorated maps with dragon like monsters to warn of peril in uncharted areas. The Hunt-Lenox Globe, c.1510, bears the words “here are dragons”.

Dragons at Home

Our Medieval ancestors used similar images to portray evil, probably originating from the description of Satan as “the great dragon”, and decorated text with various types. Britain also has legends of serpents and dragons. Yorkshire had the Dragon of Loschy Hill; the Tyne and Wear village of Fatfield was terrorised by the Lambton Worm; and the County Durham village of Sockburn had a giant serpent problem !

Tray, frosted pressed green glass, decorated with mermaid, part of a dressing-table set
Pressed glass tray, possibly Czech, with mermaid design, c.1933


From Far Away

Thoughts of mystery and adventure are also provoked by real places that are out of our reach. Even with our rapid access to information, far corners of the world remain alien, but would their allure be even greater if we only knew a few tantalising details? Since the late 1700s, consumer products spanning furniture, textiles and ceramics had been influenced by the appetite for the fashionable exotic. Glassmakers also fed this demand, taking limited detail and extrapolating designs and imagery that ranged from North Africa to Japan.

Events 2017

To find out about other events happening throughout the Dudley borough, visit the Events page at Discover Dudley.