Cornish glass designer Jo Downs' work is inspired by the coast
PUBLISHED: 11:39 27 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:37 20 February 2013
Launceston-based glass designer Jo Downs' coastally inspired work is creating ripples around Cornwall and beyond
The busy life of Jo Downs, a Cornwall-based artist and leading fused glass designer, is divided between her bustling Launceston workshop and her sea-view house in Tintagel, which she shares with her two small sons.
Jos inspiration, evidenced in the many design notes and watercolour sketchbooks that litter her home and workshop, comes from the beautiful Cornish coastline and its famous light has inspired artists for centuries. After completing a degree in Glass and Ceramic Design at Sunderland University, Jo undertook work placements with glass artists such as Mike Davies, Galia Amsel and Rebecca Newnham, before setting up her own small workshop and establishing a highly skilled niche for herself, creating architectural glass pieces for hotel and cruise line companies across Europe, including Hilton, Forte and P&O.
A spell as guest artist at The Stuttgart Art Academy was quickly followed by the setting up of Jo Downs Glass Design in the same city, but eventually the arrival of children, with her German-born husband, led her to seek out a more rural way of life with her family on the Cornish coast. Now, eight years on from its relocation to the Cornish market town of Launceston, Jo Downs Glass Design is a thriving family-run business with seven galleries across Cornwall and Devon and over 40 local employees. Jo has the support of her brother and fellow Director Tom Downs.
Between them, this brother and sister act has expanded the business over the last three years, doubling their number of staff, more than tripling their number of galleries and, by necessity, moving to a much bigger workshop to accommodate a dedicated team of highly skilled glass workers, who, along with Jo, hand cut, fire and polish her designs.
Though Jo still enjoys large-scale commissions from commercial and private clients alike, her galleries focus on a range of smaller interior and gift objects, from wall pieces to tiny glass hangings and dazzling pendants, all reflecting the vibrant colour and movement of the Cornish coast in their intricate design. Maintaining this sense of coastline captured, Jos galleries are bright, light-filled spaces decorated with ocean colours, where jewellery and other pieces are displayed in sand-filled cabinets, and wands of glittering glass hang from fishermans twine.
While working from preliminary sketches, Jo prefers to let the tactile qualities of the cut, smashed or crushed glass lead the design to some extent, so that each piece is different in colour, texture and design.
Creating each fused glasswork is a drawn out process that begins with the cutting of a sheet glass base, followed by the addition of layer upon layer of multicoloured glass waves, shapes and chips, and in some cases the inclusion of sheet metal or wire detailing, until Jo feels happy with the completed design. Each piece is then fired for up to eight hours at more than 800C. The morning routine of unveiling each cooled kiln is one of cautious optimism as the final bubbles, ripples, tones and textures added by the intense heat are revealed. Pieces destined to be bowls are then re-fired over a shaping mould, and work for the wall is drilled for fittings, before each piece is washed, polished and packed for delivery.
Jo is a stickler for quality, and should a piece come out of the kiln any less than perfect in her eyes, it is promptly smashed, crushed and each shard reused to decorate yet another intricate creation. Her work has been picked up by some well-known names in the county, including the Eden Project, for whom Jo has created a tailor-made line, and the National Trust which sells Jos giftware. The latest feather in Jos cap is an order from John Lewis.
The popularity of her work, she enthuses, is not only personally rewarding but also, she hopes, a means of championing the beauty of Cornwall.
For further information contact Jo Downs Glass Design, Southgate Technology Park, Quarry Crescent, Pennygillam Industrial Estate, Launceston, PL15 7PF. 01566 779779, www.jodowns.com