Glassblower: Stewart Hearn

From his studio in the Cambridgeshire Fens, this artisan uses time honoured techniques to create contemporary vessels inspired by nature's rich palette.

Meet Stewart Hearn

Taking his cue from the colours of Wickens Fen’s agricultural landscape, Stewart Hearn has been blowing contemporary glass vessels for more than 25 years. After college, he founded London Glass-works before moving to Cambridgeshire and launching an eponymous collection.

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Names to know Stewart Hearn

Stewart uses a large block to help shape the molten glass.

I live and breathe glassblowing. I’ve built up an incredible insight into the nature of glass and have learned to work with the material, not against it. Glass is something that can’t be dominated; you have to ‘feel’ it and endeavour to correct it as you go.

Names to know Stewart Hearn

The Fenland glass vase (middle), £140, Fenland glass spotty jug, £60, and the Fenland vessel, £320, all made for the National Trust’s Artisan & Craft collection.

I try to make unique pieces that haven’t been produced before. Much of what I create is commissioned privately, but I also offer bespoke services to restorers and the public where I remake or replicate objects that are no longer available. I’m often asked to recreate or replicate what is assumed to be a simple piece but, in truth, no item is easy to produce from scratch.

Names to know Stewart Hearn

Callipers for measuring the size of the glass.

Any number of things can go wrong when it comes to blowing glass because the material is so difficult to shape, but even mistakes are a learning curve. I might produce an interesting, unexpected shape that may well trigger an idea for another piece at a later date.

Names to know Stewart Hearn

The pig helps Stewart manage the weight of the glass while he places the blowing iron in the reheating chamber.

The tools and techniques that I use haven’t changed since people first learnt how to blow glass centuries ago. I try to introduce a unique or contemporary not to everything I make. I was lucky enough to learn from the best, including David Kaplan and Annica Sandström or Lindean Mill Glass in Scotland and London-based Simon Moore. They taught me life skills, furnace husbandry and how to run a workshop. What really matters though is selling your work; it’s easy to make pieces born of your passion, but another to sell successfully. Building up a business and making contacts is a skill.

Names to know Stewart Hearn

Shears used to trim the molten glass.

I start to think about glass almost as soon as I wake up. I moved from London to the market town of Chatteris five years ago, and turned the barn in my garden into a workshop. I go there at about 6.30am each morning and turn up the furnace. I’ll set the kilns going and start blowing at around 9am and finish around 7pm. We are a small team of three, including my assistant, Alex and Kim, who looks after admin. A highlight is removing pieces made the day before from the lehr (a separate temperature-controlled kiln) and inspecting the results. Broadly speaking, blowing is done in the hot workshop, while grinding or polishing takes place in the cold workshop.

Names to know Stewart Hearn

Stewart holds the iron ready for Alex to attach the next piece of glass.

I’m energised by variety. As well as private commissions, we have also launched four vessels for the National Trust’s Artisan & Craft range, having won its nationwide call-out this year. It’s tremendously exciting to see our work stocked in its shops. I’ve also made lighting for Collect at the Saatchi gallery, which is how the dramatic Ely Chandelier came about.

Names to know Stewart Hearn

Oval Encalmo bowls, £240 each.

Glass is a magical material. I try to pass on my techniques to others so that these precious skills aren’t lost. If I wasn’t a glassmaker, I’d be poorer in spirit. I can’t imagine doing a job that doesn’t involve using my hands in this way.

Names to know Stewart Hearn

A graphite pad is used to carefully shape the glass vessel.

Stewart Hearn London Glassworks, 112a High Street, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire PE16 6NN, 01354 278084 

Photography/ Alun Callender