Design & Decoration S01 ep2: Eileen Gordon, Gordon Glass, [Melbourne]
Interview with Eileen Gordon
Glass is a very hard medium to master and it is very frustrating at the beginning. The more you work with it, the more determined you are that you have to master this glass and it sucks you in.
I was actually born in Norway
But from my mum and dad are both Scottish, but they both worked for a
Norwegian Glass company.
KM: Which one?
KM: What was a Scottish family doing over in Norway playing with glass?
Well my parents were both they actually met at art school where they learnt
KM: In England?
In Edinburgh - Scottish, and my father, got a job when he graduated he got a
job for Hadeland in Norway and a year later my mum followed as a designer
for that company, so they got married in Norway and lived there for 16 years
KM: 16 years?
Yes, 16 years.
KM: So you probably speak Norwegian?
Yes, we do.
My father was their copper wheel engraver, which is the specialised like the
intaglio cameo type of work, and then he went back to Scotland and I was 12
at that time, and worked for Strathearn Crystal in Scotland.
KM: Strathearn crystal which we know of
Who have now been taken over by Stuart’s Crystal. But it was getting a bit
messy and my father decided it was time for a change. He came out to
Australia in 1980 I think it was, for West Australia's 150th Anniversary. He was
invited out with 6 craftspeople from Scotland and while he was there some
business people approached him and wanted to sponsor him out and at that
time I had just done one year at school in England full time course in glass
blowing, glass making, everything to do with glass in Breilley Hill, West
Midlands. This school was really started off as a trade school, for all the
Stuart Crystal, Breilley Crystal, all those factories around there.
KM: For the commercial class people
Yeah, and then they started off a studio course.
With glass it’s like.it’s a very hard medium to master and it is very frustrating at
the beginning. And the more you work with it, the more determined you are,
you have to master this glass and it sucks you in.
Before you start, you have to get all your colours ready, because we melt our
own clear glass but all the colours we buy in in rods or chips or pallet forms
whatever. So the rod form we have to heat up first so we have to prepare all
the colours and have them ready.
We tend to you tend to look at nature a lot, and everything that is around you,
and you look at you know patterns, or you know designs or insects, or plants
or whatever. And you think, oh yes, that would look all right in glass and you
start sort of thinking, how would you do that?
I am not very good at the drawing side of it, I always say no I am just going to
do it just going to try it. And you feed off each other, like Grant we both feed
off each that way you know you have an idea and you think how do we do that,
so we discuss it. Other times I just sit and watch Grant and see what he is
KM: Where does he come from, was he originally from the glass business
No he was a farmer.
KM: So you taught him I gather or?
KM: That must have been interesting?
With a lot of patience from himself, yeah (laughing).
He’s still very much has the sort of country feel about him, he is an Australian,
loves the Australian land. His pieces are more rustic than mine, but they work
well, really he’s done fantastic.
KM: You’re the only glass blower in the family, what about your other
KM: So what does he do, engraving as well?
He does except for he’s gone taken it to another aspect, he does what they
call "growl work" where he gets most of the time he gets someone else to blow
a bowl, with different coloured layers of colour on it. You anneal that it means
cool it down slowly, and he engraves this bowl (it is not very big) with all sorts
of details ….. and then you heat it back up you pick it back up in the pipe and
then you blow it into a big piece, so the design comes out.
KM: Oh O.K.
It is pretty specialised stuff.
KM: So in other words your whole family couldn't do anything on they
couldn’t do the blowing side, so where would they have gotten the glass to
work on in the early days?
From the factories, that is why they worked for companies.
KM: Ah they actually supplied them with bowls; oh they’d supplied them with
Crystal factories and they always have the engravers there as well.
KM: So I gather that you must have been a big step up for the family to be
able to also then do the raw materials?
KM: To get it up to a level where they could engrave it?
Yeah. In the coloured sense yeah, but mum and dad both used to import
crystal wear when they first went to Perth. All these glasses are imported.
KM: But they would import the finished glass and then they would engrave
It is a diverse material, you know, it’s molten, it’s hard, it’s sharp, it’s soft, it’s
KM: You really have to know it well, don't you? I suppose also it could be
very dangerous if you don't know what you are playing with?
Yes, yes because if you don't it can break.
The challenge I think is getting this dam thing straight because it always wants
to go crooked, yeah when you’re learning absolutely, you get thick tops and
thin bottoms, you’re supposed to have thin tops and thick bottoms. It is always
a challenge a piece like that.
Have you ever seen a Prince Rupert drop?
KM: A who?
Prince Rupert’s drop. It is a piece of glass that you get straight out of the
furnace and you drop it straight into a bucket of water. and it is a drop and it
has a curly tail. And when it’s cold you pull it out of the bucket and it’s ‘cos
glass has to be annealed, it has to be cooled down slowly or it is highly
stressed and you just have it in your hand and you just break off the tiny little
tail and it absolutely explodes in your hand but in such fine powder you can just
have it in your bare hand, it won’t cut you.
KM: When you first met did you realise that Eileen did this sort of stuff?
Grant Donaldson: Not really, no.
KM: When you first saw it were you a bit sort of taken away by it?
Grant Donaldson: Well actually when I first heard that she was coming to
stay in one of the cottages on the farm in Tasmania, I was sitting with my boss
in the cattle yards, after doing some work with some cattle. He said there was
a Brass Blower moving into one of the cottages.
KM: A Brass Blower?
Eileen Gordon: Well that’s what he thought he had said.
Grant Donaldson: I thought it was a trombone or something like that.
KM: You’re kidding.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Eileen Gordon, Gordon Glass, Melbourne