three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair


An interview with
allister malcolm

Allister Malcolm is an extremely talented studio glassmaker who has exhibited at the Cambridge Glass Fair many times over the years. Allister is the current resident Glass Artist at Broadfield House Glass Museum and has taken a very active part in the campaign to save the museum from closure.


Allister Malcom
Allister Malcolm

When and how did you become interested in glass ?

Having got good grades at A level Art I was looking to do a degree in either Fine Art, Painting or Sculpture. To get onto one of these courses at the time you had to do a foundation course in Art and Design. It was during this foundation course that I was introduced to a number of crafts, but glass was not one of them. I was also advised that it might be wise to learn a craft whilst at university. I took this advice quite seriously. I had seen glassmaking before and found it fascinating but then also found it a little frustrating that I couldn’t get any experience at my college. The material seemed so interesting that I simply took a gamble applying to do a degree at the University of Wolverhampton.

How and when did you start working with glass?

I started my degree in 1994 graduating in 1997. During the degree I was introduced to all sorts of different techniques and approaches in glass. It was great to be exposed to so many alternatives. Experimenting there was great fun! Techniques and the craft of working with glass was not really mastered here though - I look back and just think that it was all play! I started to work with glass the day I graduated, setting up a business designing and making my own work. Not the easiest way to launch yourself as realistically my skill level was quite low and I had few business contacts. As a result the first few years were really hard work.

Why did you decide to work with glass rather than any other medium?

I loved the immediacy of working with Hot Glass. There is no material quite like it. Anyone who has a go would have to admit that despite the heat - you just want to continue playing and experimenting.

Are there any particular styles, periods or designers that inspire you more than any other?

I love the Art Deco period.

What are your inspirations?

This is a tricky question as it changes from one moment to the next. For the Biennale this year I produced a body of work based on bees. I was totally enthralled by the preprogrammed abilities of the bee and spent weeks researching them. The pieces were eventually entitled Colony Collapse Disorder and Chaotic Cluster and were made by bonding small marbles together. I do seem to return to the natural world time and time again. However my latest bodies of work, which will be shown to the public for the first time at Cambridge, are based on clothing. One range is simply called the Cloak range and needs no explanation. The other is The Pinstripe range and again is self-explanatory.

Which other artists have you worked with/alongside?

I have been fortunate to work with lots now.I was initially taught how to make glass by Iestyn Davies and then worked for him for a brief but valuable period. Then I worked along side Susan Nixon for a couple of years. I have blown work for Jonathan Harris and Vic Bamforth. Recently though during the World’s Longest Glassmaking demonstration I worked with a number of artists to claim the record. The artists involved during my 26 and a half hour demo were; Laura Birdsall, Jonathan Harris, Sue Nixon, Steve Piper, Nancy Sutcliffe, Vic Bamforth, Lynn Baker, Helen Millard, Simon Eccles, Sue Parry, Este Macleod, Darren Weed and Ann Arlidge.

Are there any really special commissions that stand out in your mind?

I have produced a replica of a mediaeval kiln which weighs three tonnes and is large enough to walk into. This was produced a few years ago yet the pain of producing the piece in a short time scale is still in my mind. It still stands in a town square in the west midlands. I am quite proud that I got the job done under extreme circumstances. I have completed a number of really special commissions - but this one sticks in my mind as epic!

Do you have a favourite piece of work?

It will always be the latest range that I am doing. I really like developing new work and get a buzz from opening the kiln the next day to discover how test pieces have come out.

Where have you exhibited your work?

There are an extensive number of galleries currently carrying my work in the UK. A few examples are:

The Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester
Henry Paddon Contemporary Art - Eastbourne
Art 2 Frame - Dartmouth
Cecilia Colman Gallery London (St. John’s Wood)
The Biennale, twice
Origin - London

I have attended the New York Gift fair for 5 years but no longer attend.

Do you collect anything yourself?

I am building up a collection of contemporary glass. The pieces are generally from friends and guys whom I admire. I have commissioned Vic Bamforth to produce a piece. The Malcolm Family’s First Holiday. It lives in our sitting room and we love it. I also own a piece by Laura Birdsall.

Do you have collections of anything other than glass?

My wife is becoming disgusted with my collection of glassmaking tools.

What was the best piece of advice that you were given when you started collecting/dealing in glass?

Keep a variety of stock, not just the things you like yourself.

Which are the best and worst aspects of being a glass blower?

Making a living simply enjoying every day in the studio - you spend many hours at work but there is no clock watching as most of the time it doesn’t feel like work. I also like the fact that I am always learning and the material never fails to surprise me.

Which are the best and worst aspects of being a exhibitor?

The best - meeting the visitors and over the years developing friends who come back time and time again to see what’s new. The day goes so quickly now because of this.

The worst- it's heavy stuff and fragile - I wish I didn't have to transport and carry it around - & I never seem to win that bottle of alcohol in the draw at the end of the day!!!!!

What advice have you got for someone just beginning to make glass?

Stick with it. It takes time to fine tune the skills - whichever technique you choose.