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In the final interview for our firstShetlandMade exhibition we chatted with local glass artist Cheryl Jamieson about about her journey to this point, her inspirations and much more.

Cheryl designs and makes unique glassware, including jewellery, tableware and art pieces, her work can be seen in our ShetlandMade exhibition at Bonhoga until Sunday 20 May.

What is the name of your company and where do you do your work?

When I was looking for a name for my business I liked the idea of having something in Shetland dialect so looked in “An Etymological Dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland” by Jakob Jakobsen.

Jakobsen had travelled all over Shetland in the 1800s recording the words used, and one of those was “glansin”, which meant bright and shiny. This seemed a good description of my glass, especially the jewellery, but what made it even more special was that Jakobsen noted where he’d heard the word used, and it was in the north of Unst, which is where I grew up!

I have a workshop in Uyeasound in Unst.

What interesting equipment do you use?
I have my kilns to fuse the glass; a lot of people are fascinated by how I cut the glass – I use a glass cutter that just looks like a pen but scores the glass so that you can snap it just like chocolate. It’s amazing, you can do it even with wavy lines and it still works.

Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

I think it’s nearly 10 years I have been doing this now and I’m always amazed, everything I make has a strong Shetland connection to it. A lot of the glass lends itself well to being the sea, the colours and translucency. There are also ones that reflect the sky, the land and the sea.

Whether it’s the view out of our window, our heritage, our archaeology or geology, there are so many things in Shetland, I never need to look anywhere else.

Even with things that are quite prescribed and following a process there is still a Shetland connection in there. I have to feel that connection with what I’m doing, I worried sometimes that I don’t research it too much but then I realised

I’m a born and bred Shetlander so it’s just what’s in me, what I’ve grown up knowing and that’s what’s coming out when I make my pieces.

Why do you choose to use the materials that you use?

We moved back to Unst when our oldest was born, 18 years ago now, I have a maths degree but coming back home there wasn’t a huge range of jobs available so I needed to find a job I enjoyed or make my own job. I’d always been creative and always had this idea that I’d do my own craft business, but when the bairns were little I never really found my thing. Then I got the opportunity to go on a trip to Norway - a joint initiative between the Highlands of Scotland, the North Isles of Shetland and a rural area of Norway learning from each area and looking at creating businesses and sustaining communities in fragile rural areas.

While I was there I had a chance meeting with a Norwegian lady who worked with fused glass and was fascinated. It ended up being one of those lightbulb, life changing moments.

I came home and researched fused glass, discovered it was something that was quite accessible and an exciting material to work with.

I had had another job at that time but I realised the glass was always going to come bottom of the list if I kept doing that so I took the courage and left my job and went for it with Glansin Glass and it’s been the best thing I ever did.

I love working with glass - when you put it in the kiln you are never entirely sure how it’s going to come out, you have an idea but it changes, the form can change, sometimes the colour can change.

Do you have a favourite piece to make?

My most successful product is probably the glass set into driftwood, when I first started I was told this wasn’t going to work, luckily I ignored it, carried on and they’ve been so popular. I love see folk’s reactions to them. I collect up the wood from around the beaches on Unst, I bring it home, clean it and bleach it and then they lie around the house drying.

The pile of wood lying around looks like nothing, and then you finally see the glass set into the wood and all hanging up and I think I can’t believe I made them!

The hardest bit is finding the wood, I’ve become less fussy over time as I realised the funny shaped pieces have more character and a lot of folk are looking for the character in the wood, I work with what the sea gives me. I look at the pieces of wood and decide what the colour of glass is going to be and the size and shape that will fit in.

The other product I’m really pleased with is my peerie nip glasses, as long as I have been working with glass folk have been asking if I could make little shot glasses and I’d always said I’m not sure how you could make glasses without casting or blowing them. Then a few years ago I learnt a different technique that made a vessel and I kept wondering if I could scale this down to make a nip glass, with a bit of experimenting I got these to work and they’ve been so popular!

They take a lot of cold working, grinding and hand finishing after they’ve been in the kiln, they’re a lot more work but every single one I end up looking at and thinking I really like the shape of that one or the colours, no matter how many I’ve made I never get bored. That’s a product I’m really happy with.

How long does it usually take to complete a piece?

Some things can be assembled relatively quickly and be ready to go in the kiln. Usually it’s one firing a day, a day in the kiln and then you have to leave the kiln to cool; if it’s a bowl you have to fire it a second time to shape it.

What motivates you to do what you do?

I’m very involved in the community here and a big part of my drive in setting up Glansin Glass was to not only answer a need in myself to be creative but also to be an asset to Unst.

I’m very proud of where I’m from and all that goes on in the community here. There’s a lot of folk working hard to make Unst the place it is and I want to do my bit to take folk up here to see how amazing Unst is and what a vibrant community the island has. I would like to expand my workshop and shop into a visitor centre to help encourage more people up here.

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