three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair



An interview with
jilly cunningham

Jilly Cunningham is an artist. She is a regular exhibitor at the Glass Fair @ Knebworth and has kindly agreed to be interviewed for the website.

Vic Bamforth
Jilly Cunningham

When and how did you first become interested in glass ?

My first experience of glass was at the tender age of four years old. My mother was putting hot fruit into glass bottles.. a jar exploded and I was in the way.. My interest and respect comes from way back! 

At art college in London I studied sculpture and experimented with different mediums but kept returning to glass for my inspiration and to work with. I spent some years working on kiln-formed glass and glass with resin. 

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

I do pay homage to the Art Deco period when harmony of design and colour reached great heights of sophistication not seen since, in my opinion. I never copy a designer but I think a few of my switches capture the feeling of that period.

What made you want to design and make light switches? 

While I was designing the interiors of renovation projects, I kept noticing a small and often overlooked detail in every room - the light switch! I tried to find interesting switches to complement the style of each room, and I found none. I decided to make some myself. 

My switches are made with Murano or Tiffany glass.  Each one is completely unique, a small fully functional jewel-like work of art. Each one takes me about twelve hours of careful cutting and grinding.

'Jools Holland'
They are a way to add a touch of originality to any room, and can be commissioned to match your own style and decor. They are a subtle way of making a big statement, and a compelling conversation piece. 

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

This is difficult question! The best of course is meeting new people who are happy to come over and look at my switches. People that straight away 'get the point', see the need, enjoy the idea of where they might put them in their own home.
The worst is noticing people passing by and not taking any interest in my switches... When this first happened I realized I needed to be proactive. As an introvert who hates making the first move in a situation, and who hates the hard sell, it was difficult. But I did feel I wanted to know why I was being passed by. So for this reason I approached a friendly looking face and said, "Can I introduce you to my light switches?" The response was very informative; she said, "Oh! I thought they were coasters, and I don't need coasters!" She then went on to say how beautiful they were, and purchased one. I now have the courage to gently approach people and explain they are light switches. I leave it at that - they can choose to come over and look, or not.  

What is the most special / interesting piece that you have made or own?

I think I must choose from my four different areas of work: sculpture, portraits, mosaics and switches. So for sculpture I love best my figure called 'Green Flight'. It's about the difficulties experienced by women who try to have a career and be good mothers too - I can say that I have not found it easy.

For my portraits, it's difficult as I have met many interesting people, but I will choose Jools Holland. In fact, he suggested I might include silhouettes of musical instruments in the portrait. 
'Travel Studies in Gold'

I love each switch dearly and I could say the last one I made is my favourite! Often I start work with my design idea and sometimes a name for this switch comes to me while I'm making it: I like that. With my switch called 'Jungle', I had its name somewhere on the tip of my tongue.. I showed it to my daughter who immediately said, 'It's called Jungle". Odd but she was so right. So at the moment it's Jungle, number 10 on my website, ;

Lastly, my mosaic called 'Travel Studies in Gold' is a firm favourite.

My advice

When collecting glass look for pieces that give you pleasure and make you smile. There can be no better purchase. I have been told my glass switches do just that! 

I am hoping that collectors and dealers will not overlook my Murano and Tiffany glass light switches because what is new and unusual today can very quickly can become collectable in the near future. 

Switched On -

Other than The Knebworth and National glass fairs where do or have you exhibited your work? 

I have exhibited in a Bond St, London gallery, also in Hampstead, in Portugal and in Cambridge. This year in 2018 I am at Open Studios at Burwash Manor and The National Glass Fair in November. For Christmas 2018 I plan to be at 'Handmade Chelsea' at Chelsea Town Hall.