John Ford – born in Great Torrington Devon when Dartington Crystal was a pile of scaffolding.
Studied Stained Glass for 4 years at Bideford School of Art.
While at Art College the manager of Dartington Crystal, Eskil Vilhemsson, was looking for a student who was able to carve a mould to commemorate Mayflower 1970, that was my introduction to hot glass and Dartington Crystal and I was subsequently asked to join the team at the factory as a ‘glass engraver’. I had never engraved a piece of glass in my life before! Early days at Dartington were good; everyone was on a massive learning curve. Frank Thrower’s energy and enthusiasm, love of a pint and a game of pool, made it have a party atmosphere with a lot of fun and hard work. Looking back it was good to be a part of the beginning of Dartington.
The years of working with glass have been spent working between hot and cold glass. After the early years at Dartington I joined the Stained Glass restoration team at Salisbury Cathedral. Over the years I have worked on restoration projects, for example Salisbury and Fairford and more recently St Kew in Cornwall, I have worked with some great people and in some great locations. Hence my other passion is medieval painted stained glass.
I first came across graal when I saw a book on modern Swedish glass and was fascinated by images encased in glass, I was bitten I wanted to make this glass. After some time I contacted Orrefors Glass factory in Sweden, the birth place of graal. I went there as a glass engraver and I met Eva Englund, the graal maker. Unbelievably she said’ you will work with me Englishman’. It took two years for her to persuade the management to employ me. I worked with Eva at Orrefors until she left and formed her own company Maria. The team consisted of Eva, designer, Wilke Adolfsson, blower (a true master of his craft). In the short life of the company we produced what was considered to be some exceptional graal. The company ceased because of Eva’s poor health.
I returned to England and searched for a glass maker who had the desire and the skills to make graal, I found Neil Wilkin (a visionary glass maker) on my doorstep. Neil had built his own studio in the Dartington Crystal factory at Great Torrington. This collaboration is credited with being the first time that engraved graal had been produced in England. We had our disasters in the early days but produced many pieces worthy of exhibiting. The first time I was producing my own graal glass.
I then found myself in Gibraltar with five ex Dartington employees, starting a small glass studio. Better weather than Sweden.
Wilke and I had established a friendship and good working relationship and continued to make graal and exhibit jointly under Wilke Adolfsson/John Ford which has continued for nearly 30 years, with less frequent exhibitions in Sweden recently.
After my time in Gibraltar I linked up again with Dartington Crystal as they had a small studio glassworks at The Barbican, Plymouth. I joined the design team at Dartington and met the infamous Ben Taylor. We started to produce a small amount of graal which was blown by Ben (an extremely talented glass maker).
I am enjoying working with an old friend again at Bristol Blue.
Making Graal is a special glass technique that is only as good as the sum of the parts and I am pleased to be working with a small but talented team at Bristol Blue.