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Whitefriars Glass

(February 06, 2009)

Walking around the homeware departments of the high-street stores you would be amazed by the sheer number of home accessories and vases influenced by the European art glass designers (British, Italian and Scandinavian) of the mid twentieth century (1940s to 1980s).
Although these items appear attractive and contemporary, most consumers don't appreciate the design pedigree of these modern day accessories, the design icons that influenced them, or the source of their inspiration. Also, people don't seem to be aware that an original art glass vase can cost as much as - or less than - modern high street versions. I know which I would prefer.
One of the most influential are the iconic designs produced by WhitefriarsThe Whitefriars Glassworks was established by James Powell & Sons in 1834 and was in continuous production until its closure in 1980. They produced a vast collection of items, from stained glass windows to paperweights, but my interest in their work predominantly focuses on their art glass vases from the 1950's onwards. 
Their most famous designer, Geoffrey Baxter (1922-1995), was responsible for producing some of their most popular and iconic designs, many of which can now be seen in trendy retro-style magazines and interiors, as well as antique and reclamation stores across the country.
A considerable collection of Whitefriars pieces (along with other celebrated art glass designers) can be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. I strongly recommend going to see this exhibition, if only to see the staircase made of glass!
One of Whitefriars' most iconic of designs is their textured series of vases (an example of which is shown below):

Whitefriars Textured Finger Vases
 Nail Head vase by Geoffrey Baxter, designed in 1967
Pattern no. 9683, in Tangerine
These vases have tremendous texture and depth, and the colours (particularly the vase above) are very rich and show wonderfully, especially when lit by sunlight.
Another fine example of a vase from this range is called a Bark Vase (again designed by Geoffrey Baxter), shown below, which was available in a range of sizes.
  Whitefriars Bark Vase
Bark Vase by Geoffrey Baxter, designed in 1967
pattern no 9690, in Tangerine
Similar examples of vases in the rich colourway of Ruby are shown below:
  Whitefriars Ruby Bark Vases Ruby Bark Vases 2
 Bark Vases by Geoffrey Baxter, designed in 1967
pattern no 9690, left & centre, and pattern no 9729, right, in Ruby
Whitefriars were not only renowned for their textured vases, they also created pieces in a lobed (often termed cased) range - a style also popular with the Scandinavian and the Murano glass-makers. The effect of this technique is a characteristic clear layer of glass overlaying the coloured layer - giving a rich and two-tone effect.
One of my favourite examples of this technique is below in a rich colourway called  Ruby, by Whitefriars.
  Art Glass 3
Left to Right: pattern nos. 9571, 9537, 9572, & 9571, in Ruby
Whitefriars Hambone Vase
Hambone Vase
Pattern no 9537, in Ruby
  Whitefriars Ruby Teardrop 
Whitefriars Ruby Teardrop Medium
Teardrop vase
Pattern no 9572, in Ruby
Chimney vases (sometimes called Tapering vases), a clean and iconic design, were designed by Geoffrey Baxter in 1957 and produced until 1968.
Whitefriars Chimney Vases 
Whitefriars Chimney or Tapering vases
Pattern no 9655
Indigo Chimney Vase
Whitefriars Chimney or Tapering vase
pattern no 9655, in Willow
Whitefriars also produced cased vases on a slightly larger scale. The example below, designed by Geoffrey Baxter in 1957 and produced until 1965, is called a 'Flared, Cased Vase'.
  Whitefriars Flared Ruby Vase
Whitefriars Flared vase
pattern no 9582, in Ruby
Another example of Whitefriars' use of texture is their 'Ribbon Trailed' vases - first designed in the 1930s by Barnaby Powell - and their 'Random Stapped' vases, designed by Geoffrey Baxter in 1969 and produced until 1980.
  Whitefriars Random Strapped
Ribbon Trailed vase by Geoffrey Baxter
pattern no 9708, in Pewter, with ribbon trail applied in Kingfisher
Claire Meredith, March 2009

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