Looking to the past for a sustainable future. The development of small studio glass furnaces

Ian Hankey

In 1995 I attended a talk given by Dan Kline, a renowned glass expert, in which he stated that the studio glass movement was becoming unworkable as a business model. I decided to follow a career in glassmaking anyway, but spiralling energy costs, environmental and sustainability issues and massively increased competition from foreign imported goods have made running a business as a glassmaker more and more difficult.  Fifteen years after I went to Dan Kline’s lecture, I have to concede that it is no longer possible for most glassmakers to start a viable business with the current technology and processes available.
In this paper, I’d like to look at the current working practices of a studio glass workshop and take us on a journey into the past, looking specifically how the industrial revolution changed the way we as a society think about industry. As environmental concerns and sustainability have become more and more important we must find innovative ways of coping with ever increasing energy costs and dealing with local, national and international environmental concerns. We must of course look to technological advances, but I hope to show that it is just as important that we look at technical and reflective innovation from before the Industrial revolution too.

Ian Hankey was born in Liverpool in 1964 and left school with no formal qualifications. He began his working career at Pilkington Glass as an Apprentice Engineer in 1981, working on the installation and maintenance of factory services. He returned to education in 1988 and went on to complete a 3 Dimensional Design degree at Buckinghamshire University, a Masters Degree from the Royal College of Art and a PGCE from the London Institute. He was Technical Instructor in Hot Glass at the Royal College for 7 years before leaving to Manage Teign Valley Glass in 2003. He has many international design awards to his name, designed for Habitat, exhibited in many exhibitions and is currently on the design team of Caitheness Glass and Dartington Crystal.
He teaches glass, visual communication, professional studies and work based learning at Plymouth College of Art.
He fell into research ‘by accident’ after offering to help eminent researchers from Imperial College and the V&A with a project.
Initially helping as a craftsman on practical solutions, his observations and comments have led to him publishing a number of papers and have enabled the development of national and international research projects. His research centers around the importance of tacit skills in a world of technical rationality, and the diminishing credibility of the craftsperson in a society that increasingly recognises as important, only what can be articulated and written down within political and administrative systems.