Peter Layton has been at the forefront of the British glassblowing scene for more than 40 years. He’s one of the most respected artists in glassblowing worldwide, and is also the founder of London Glassblowing, the oldest glassblowing studio in the UK. In addition to being renowned for his artistic vision, Peter is widely appreciated for his commitment to keeping the tradition of glassblowing alive, freely sharing his knowledge with apprentice glass artists who work at his studio.
Over the past four decades, Peter has mentored scores of talented glassmakers, who have gone on to achieve success in their own artistic endeavours. In this episode, Otto steps into the studio and marvels at the magical world of glass art. Peter guides Otto through the intricate process of glassblowing, shares memories of the proudest moment of his career, and shows Otto his wackiest work ever.
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Otto: Hi, I’m Otto. Today, I’m London meeting famous glass-blower, Peter Layton. He makes amazing artwork out of glass. He uses a special technique where you inflate molten glass into a bubble and then you shape it. I can’t wait to find out how Peter makes his incredible artworks. Let’s go and meet him.
Peter: Glassmaking is great fun. It’s something we all – we guys do it because we love it.
Otto: What actually is like glassblowing?
Peter: Well, glass is a miraculous, magical medium that’s made up basically of sand which we melt at a very high temperature and turns into something a little bit like toffee. Blowing involves dipping a tube into the molten glass and gathering it up onto the tube and blowing it into a variety of forms.
Otto: How long does it take to like make one basic piece of art?
Peter: In a factory, if you spend more than five minutes, say, with a piece on a blowing and that’s far too long. Here, we would spend half a day maybe with a very heavy piece. One of my colleagues, he spent months on one item. But then that had been blown and cut and polished and deconstructed and reconstructed. He spent about six or eight months on that one piece.
Otto: Is there any advice that you would give to kids?
Peter: Go and get a lot of experience hiring or working other places, taking apprenticeships, that sort of thing.
Otto: What’s the wackiest design you think you’ve ever made?
Peter: Well, the things I’m doing at the moment are pretty wacky, these cloud things. I mean I could – we could handle on, if you like.
Otto: That would be really fun, yeah.
Peter: So, these are still very experimental pieces. They don’t look very cloud-like, I suppose, but clouds was the inspiration or the idea of clouds.
Otto: If you could estimate – it might be quite hard – how many pieces of glass do you think you’ve made?
Peter: Yeah, that is hard. Thousands. Luckily, people seem to like the work and are liking it more and more.
Otto: What’s your most proudest achievement?
Peter: In the ’80s there was a series of triannual symposia. They was like the Olympics. People came from all over the world. It wasn’t really a competition, but everybody was looking to see what everybody else was doing. I think I got the gold medal. I made out of glass – and I’ll try and describe briefly how I did it – a two-meter-high pyramid, more than two meters high.
It was sort of cast – hot casts poured bars into a channel, into a mold with end-stops that moved so I could control the length. It was carefully engineered so that – although I only really made a balsawood model originally. It came together. Only one of those pieces had to break and the whole thing would have tumbled down. But it is still – I believe it is still in a museum in the Czech Republic.
Otto: Thank you very much, Peter. It’s been really nice to meet you and I’ve had a lot of fun.
Peter: Well, Otto, it’s been really nice meeting you. You’re a great guy.
Otto: Thank you.
Peter: You’ve asked some really pertinent questions.
Otto: Wow. It’s been really nice meeting Peter and I’ve really enjoyed watching these guys make the glass artwork. I hope to see you guys again. Bye.