Reviving a long-lost glass craft

In 1897 two Germans bought a patent from a French artist and set up shop in London to manufacture cloisonné glass.

Monday, 17th December 2018, 14:10 pm
Neil Wilton with one of the pieces from his cloisonne collection.

An alternative to stained glass, the ‘cold process’ differed from cloisonné enamel, a form of decoration on objects, jewellery and furniture.

The technique, now little known of and rarely seen, has been researched by a local man who hopes re-popularise the artform.

The Cloisonné Glass Company constructed its works by layering materials. Clear glass was positioned over a design and gold-plated wires bent to follow the shapes of the drawing beneath. The precision positioning of the wires was the most crucial step as they had to lie perfectly flat.

The voids between the wires were filled with tiny glass ‘blind beads’ (no hole) or ‘frit’ (crushed glass), which was bonded with glue before a coversheet of glass was applied. The word ‘cloisonné’ comes from the French ‘cloison’, meaning compartment.

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In the mid-1990s a customer brought in a piece for repair at The Stained Glass Centre in West Jesmond. Ian Wilton and his son Neil, with 30 years’ experience between them, had never seen the like, so Ian began researching it.

He wrote to the London Victorian Society, which put it in its newsletter. A lady whose father had been a carpenter in the adjoining workshop to the Cloisonné Glass Company got in touch. Her father had created the woodwork to hold the glass in windows, tables, trays, fireguards and cabinets.

Neil began collecting pieces. They are relatively low value, and almost always damaged, but he has painstakingly reverse-engineered the craft and developed a system of lighting the pieces to show their full beauty.

Designs would have been selected by customers to commission a lampshade, fireguard or wall piece. Each item is bespoke, although popular motifs include peacocks, irises and elaborate swirls. The company advertised its pieces as “burglar-proof” and “easily repaired”, neither of which was true.

The Cloisonné Glass Company closed in 1927.

Now Neil has perfected the formula of the glue, learned how to make glass beads from recycled bottles and stained-glass off-cuts, and found a way to bend the wires. He plans to offer classes and design DIY craft kits.

If you would like to try it, get in touch at hiddenheritage@gmail.com