It’s like you’re making love, full of passion, you’re picking it up, touching it softly and playing with it.” Reshmi Dey, a petite 34-year-old, is entranced when talking about her first love. “When I gather this hot glass, I just love it.”
Nine years ago, Dey fell for glass blowing, and now lives and breathes the art of studio glass. Studio glass, the art of sculpting unique pieces from glass blowing techniques, has risen in international popularity over the past four decades, but is yet to find a niche in India. Dey hopes to change all that.
Dey already sells vases (Rs1,800) and lamps (Rs2,450) at The Next Shop in Delhi and Good Earth (Mumbai/Delhi) will launch a line of tea light holders in May. But her passion lies in one-of-a-kind sculptural work for which she will spend 12 days in front of a furnace.
Dey blows her delicate glass sculptures—abstract vases, sculptural lamps that double as wall-hangings, and small tables complete with glass-blown legs and top—in slender curves, geometric triangles, tilted ovals, in opaque whites with olive green peeking through, rich purple hues, or blue dripping into pink. Dey sells these high-end pieces to a group of private collectors she keeps in contact with via email and hopes the interest in Indian studio glass will continue to grow.
Dey, though passionate now about the art form, was not always so. She admits that her introduction to glass had little to do with creative drive, and everything to do with money. After earning her MBA, Dey wanted to pursue a degree in business management. But when faced with the price tag, she realized that she could not afford to do it. “I cried the whole day. I didn’t see anything else in my life. And I was lost for almost two to three years.”
After several odd jobs and a lot of soul searching, Dey saw some glasswork made in Firozabad at a friend’s house. She hit the Internet to research glass and decided to head to Firozabad to learn glass blowing.
“Everybody thought that I would go once or twice and then settle into some corporate job. But I never looked back.”
Dey started out by selling pieces of her jewellery to support the expensive materials necessary for the art, and then spent the next two years training with glassmakers in the steaming factories of Firozabad.
One day in 2001, she set out to find out if she could make money out of her work. After little interest from stores, she walked into Ebony, a department store in Delhi’s South Extension. They placed an order for Rs3 lakh.
The next year, Dey moved to the UK to improve her technique at the International Glass Center in Birmingham on a scholarship. After two years of study and a year following master glass craftsmen in Europe, Dey returned to India. “I wanted to come back home and promote studio glass in a big way.”
It’s been an uphill task, though. Dey does not think enough Indians are aware of the possibility of glass as artwork and, if they are, the collectors often turn to international designers first. Plus, government regulations keep most glasswork in Firozabad and the public facilities available are not built for precise, one-of-a-kind work.
However, the biggest challenge, according to her, is the lack of trained assistants. Few people are versed in the vocabulary of studio glass, so it takes longer to direct her employees. Also, she misses discussing ideas with other artists and being inspired by their work.
In addition to introducing clients to studio glass, Dey hopes to start a school within the next year to pass along the techniques to a new generation of Indian artists.
“I feel like I’m sitting at a buffet, with all this food spread out before me. I don’t want to eat it all alone! I want everyone to share in my passion for glass,” she says.
Melissa A. Bell