North Lands Creative: the world-leading glass studio you may not have heard of
- David Pollock
- 23 April 2019
Director Karen Phillips tells us more about the open access studio in Caithness
'What we do is quite unique, even in the world, and we're the only glass studio in Scotland that's open access,' says Karen Phillips, the director of North Lands Creative (NLC). 'There are lots of glass organisations spread across the world, but most of them tend to have a focus on one thing. They might have a wonderful kiln room, or a cold shop, but we cater for every kind of technique in glass; we have a hot shop, a kiln room, a mould room, a cold glass shop … '
As far as Phillips is aware, part of the reason for siting North Lands in the Caithness village of Lybster was because the beautiful beaches of Scotland's far north might allow access to the sand needed for glass-making by those using the studio. 'Sadly it wasn't to be,' she says. 'I believe the chemical composition of the sand wasn't right for making hot glass.' The other influence on the choice of location was the local MP at the time, Robert Maclennan, who established North Lands in 1995 alongside his old university friends: Professor Keith Cummings of the University of Wolverhampton and Dan Klein, the latter a world-renowned expert in glassmaking.
Phillips points out that most aspiring glassmakers will probably find the broadest range of facilities elsewhere if they study the subject at university; but even then, many of these departments are closing down, and the ones which are left don't have anything like the breadth and versatility of equipment as NLC. 'Our facilities mean that people who come to us, if they haven't practised in all of these areas, have space for creativity and support from the technical team we have onsite,' she says. 'They're able to explore far more in their practise than they would have been able to elsewhere.'
'Our Alastair Pilkington Studio was finished when Lady Pilkington bequeathed some money to us on the death of our husband – that's now our main studio,' says Phillips. 'At the top of the High Street we also have a little gallery, office and showcase space. In the studio, we run a host of programmes, much like other studios; an artist-in-residency programme, glassmaking classes and an annual forum which brings together like-minded people to discuss contemporary studio glass.'
NLC also offers open-access classes for locals, while it's also proud of the international esteem in which it's held. 'We're on the periphery,' says Phillips. 'I think we're known more outside Scotland than we are within the country; when I came for an interview here I didn't know about North Lands Creative, and I've been involved in the arts for almost 20 years. But over the last few years, we've been trying to broaden out and look at how glass can support visual arts, performance arts and cross-disciplinary practices.'
North Lands Creative, Lybster, Caithness, northlandscreative.co.uk.