Jane loved contemporary glass and the idea of supporting studio artists, and so we thought the best use for her bequest would be to commission a modern piece for the collection. Our choice fell on Jonathan Harris, who is based at the Coalport China Museum near Ironbridge, as he is an example of a contemporary artist who works in the cameo tradition. The cameo glass revival in the late 19th century was one of the greatest achievements of the Stourbridge glassmakers and we wanted to show that there were artists around today who could produce work every bit as fine as their Victorian predecessors, albeit in a different style and idiom.
The vessel is made from three layers of colour indigo, scarlet and gold amethyst overlaid with a thick casing of crystal. In traditional cameo the decoration is carved on the outer surface but in this piece it has been carved and engraved through the inner layers of colour and the outer surface remains glossy and untouched. The imagery includes foliage, ferns and butterflies in a tangled wild wood. The ferns and the butterflies were suggested by museum staff, as they had been among the favourite motifs of the Victorian engravers and cameo carvers.
Jonathan writes of his work: "Intrinsic" cameo is my description of the technique and refers to my belief that the carved imagery cut through the layers of internal colour implies a fundamental and inherent connection to the form. One views the carved design through the clear glass structure of the vessel, which amplifies the subtle colour shifts and magnifies the sand carved detail. The deceptively simple but sophisticated form is blown to develop an innate soft profile engaging the natural temperament of the hot glass, which offers the perfect vehicle for luscious colour and indulgent decoration.