There would always come a time when Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones were properly acknowledged here. After all they have provided Jan and me with so much pleasure for so many years.
On our way to Glasgow recently we made a short, deliberate detour to the Bowes Museum specifically to see some of the latest work from their studio. I urge you to try and do the same (leave Glasgow for another time if you like!) Just eight bowls are on display. But there is so much colour, texture, design and achingly honest craft that the first reaction is delight that they are there at all. Inspired by the local Teesdale landscape, it was a privilege to add our visit to the story of a casual but committed association with a partnership that has blossomed for the last twenty-plus years in its home in the heart of the North York Moors National Park.
We camped at Rosedale Abbey forty years ago. Not long married. No kids. Enough bladder control to confine things at night to no more than one trip from our tent across wet grass to the toilet block. Britain has much to offer but we have returned here very often. No wonder Kate and Stephen were tempted to put down roots a couple of decades after our first visit. The area is lovely. In their case, full of lovely inspiration.
Eventually, alerted to their studio by tourist information leaflets, we found them and saw them at first hand, embedded in one of our favourite landscapes. A few years later we made our first excited purchase, a bowl from the ‘Long Leaves’ series in Steel Blue.
In 2014 we visited the studio again, on Jan’s sixtieth birthday. Kate was there to guide us. She eventually produced some bowls which were not on shelf display and describing one as ‘Pigeon Blue’ its choice was pretty much assured. One of our sons was setting up in business with a miniature figure range which included reference to Nikola Tesla and his rather intriguing relationship with pigeons! So, we had our second bowl, an ‘Opaque’ this time. Kate had brought out other pieces as we browsed and without much debate we impulsively added our third work, ‘Still Pool’.
Having signed up to the newsletter, in November of that year we were alerted to one of Gillies Jones' early 'Limited Edition' bowls. The Peony Bowl was in our home for that Christmas.
No further purchases as yet but we are regularly and sorely tempted. We see the studio's work as it travels to other parts of Britain for temporary exhibition. I remember speeding as calmly as I could to the reception desk at Blackwell The Arts & Crafts House to let them know that a Gillies Jones bowl was within a whisker of crashing from its plinth!
The Bowes Museum exhibition is now in its last two weeks. My pictures cannot do justice to the works on display. If you miss them at Barnard Castle some will appear elsewhere over time. Others have been made. Three of them are on their way to Blowing Hot and Cold in London. Look out for more opportunities by signing up to the Gillies Jones newsletter. And please take advantage of at least one of those opportunities. You can then see that this work has the same strong impact as standing in the landscape itself.
I vaguely remember seeing earlier ‘Landscape’ bowls at the Rosedale studio. Perhaps I didn’t give them enough attention, knowing they were out of our pocket. But I do remember a more graphic, stripped down abstraction in those early forays seeking to express physical and human geography in glass.
The latest work is informed by digital satellite imaging but technology is gently interrupted and questioned by the artist's eye and mind. This creates a synthesis which is revealed in different ways as you move around each work. The mastery of blown glass is there still but the scalpel-like precision of engraving is now even more in tune with the curve and sinew of the material. And the changing features of a landscape influenced by light and seasons twist and swirl through each bowl. We were seduced and stayed longer than planned.
Heading on to our Glasgow destination we left those delightfully accomplished bowls behind us. But we continued to be cradled in their real inspiration until we exhausted its southern limits along the A66.