I grew up in Bristol on a large council estate in a very male dominated family. I was both mechanically minded and artistic which was very handy in the ‘mend and make do’ environment I had grown up in, so a practical career seemed appropriate for me. I was fascinated by the world of forensic science long before it became fashionable and decided it was the profession for me. I achieved an offer of a place as an Assistant Scientific Officer to be based at Chorley in Lancashire but with a delayed start date of almost a year.
Shortly after receiving the offer I accompanied a friend to an open day at the Department of Chemistry at Bristol University and whilst she toured the teaching labs I stood in the foyer talking to a technician who had set up a very impressive display of glassware to support the open day and advertise the service. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the elaborate shapes, complexities and artistic beauty of the glassware, the likes of which I’d never seen before – well why would you? I learned that the pieces had all been made on site in the department's purpose-built Scientific Glassblowing workshop. I couldn’t see any joins; the work was seamless but it was glass. How could you possibly make the likes of that work? I found it both enchanting and mind-blowing.
It must have been fate, as a short time later I saw an advert in the local press for a Trainee Technician in Scientific Glassblowing at the university. I went for a series of interviews and a week of assessment in the glass workshop - which was certainly not a place for the faint hearted - before finally being offered the job. I accepted the post, safe in the knowledge that I had the forensic post to fall back on but I have never looked back.
During my training I undertook examinations under the authority of the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers and in tandem undertook the pilot exams for new the NVQs in Scientific Glassblowing. I spent quality time and trained in workshops based in different disciplines of science – the Medical School, Physics, Chemistry and Botany and Zoology. I was taught skills in hot and wet working of glass, manipulating, cutting, drilling and machining, sheet glass work, sputter coating, polishing and even electron beam welding. I also studied the complimentary disciplines of mechanical engineering and technical drawing with City & Guilds. I completed my training and took on a full time role in one of the four glassblowing workshops at Bristol University.
My move to Oxford came when an opening came up in the ICL glassblowing workshop and I was the successful applicant. I worked as a deputy before finally taking over the workshop, which at the same time became a University-wide service. I will admit that I found first setting foot in the Chemistry Department very intimidating - after all these are some of the best brains in the world - but I very soon realised that their perception of me had much the same effect; apparently the prospect of a consultation with me could intimidate too… and not just because back then I was one of very few women in the Department.
I am straight-talking, so if something doesn’t make sense or sit well, I will say so or question it, in the most polite manner, of course. And a more helpful soul you’d be hard pressed to find… in a glass workshop! I try never to turn a job away but I do understand my limitations and always try to find an external solution or an alternative way of solving the issue. I love to talk to people from all backgrounds and cultures and help them and to solve problems; I want them to succeed as then I succeed.
My longevity is the confirmation I’ve needed to thrive and I have been supported, rewarded and achieved regular investment in the workshop and myself throughout my career here. I am proud to have been elected as a Fellow of The British Society of Scientific Glassblowers (BSSG) and I have been a member of the society throughout my glassblowing career. Within the BSSG I have held the posts of: Honorary Secretary, Qualifications Secretary of the Board of Examiners, and Examiner. I still hold the post of Society Librarian.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with glassblowers around the world at symposia and in promoting and supporting scientific glassblowing and in offering specialist training.
I am passionate about glass full stop. I can’t go on holiday without seeking out a glassworker of some sort for a visit. My family are very understanding! Glass has many unique properties, and the glasses we know today are the products of meeting the need to make life simpler and more productive. Glass serves us in our daily lives like perhaps no other material.
I’ve had a home workshop for over 20 years, mainly for my artistic work. I am a self-taught glass artist and specialise in hollow blow life like sculptures, but more recently I have ventured into fused glass working. I’d love to have an exhibition of my artistic work and possibly an opportunity to be an artist-in-residence in the future.
I give talks to various groups about all my glassblowing work, usually in exchange for a charitable donation.
I do enjoy supporting my husband in his pursuit of motorsports as a Drag Motorcycle Racer too, it’s not quite all glass!
And I love watching CSI!