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John Ditchfield

The Master Glassblower

John was born in Blackpool in his parents’ hotel The Moorfield. He was the youngest of three. The intention was to join the family business so he started training as a comis chef at the Cliffs Hotel Blackpool. His mother Nora, a Welsh lady from Caerlean, who was the drive behind the hotel, died when John was sixteen. He left the Cliffs and he took what he thought was a summer job as an assistant to Italian master glassblower Franco Toffolo at the Venetian Glass Factory on the Squires Gate Industrial estate Blackpool. At the age of ten on a school skiing trip to Innsbruck, John when looking through a shop window saw some elegant miniature frosted cobalt blue glass vases and perfume bottles and he fell in love with them .He had been given spending money for the two weeks but blew it all on purchasing the set of pieces for his mother. So began his love affair with glass and under the tuition of Toffolo he spent seven years learning the basic and complicated techniques of Venetian glassmaking.

With a small legacy from the sale of the family hotel John set up his first studio but unfortunately was shut down due to noise pollution. He tried various other business ventures like running a convenience store, selling bags and bras at markets, making clothes and hessian shopping bags which he sold through various outlets. He was then invited back to the Venetian Glass factory as manager, Toffolo having left to work at Caithness Glass in Perth. During this time John discovered the Art Nouveau period, in particular the glass of Tiffany and Loetz. He visited the Tiffany Collection at the Haworth Art Gallery in Accrington and was fascinated by the intricacies of Tiffany’s style and the complex chemical processes which were used to achieve the fine effects. This fascination led him down many paths and many late nights experimenting.

John then met Donald Sidebottom a local business man who offered John a partnership in a glass studio in the Lake District. The intention was to create a visitor centre open to the public. Whilst waiting for planning permission John decided to travel to Europe to develop his glassmaking skills and to learn from others. In Holland, in the hope of learning iridising techniques he met the glass designer AD Copier and Williem Hessen who had both worked as designers at Leerdam Glass. He had the opportunity of working with such glass artists as Sam Herman, Lubomir Hora and Pavel Molnar. In Germany he worked along side 30 Turkish glass blowers and shared their cramped accommodation. Shortly after this he returned to Blackpool and the first furnace at Talbot Road was lit in January 1982. It was supposed to be a temporary measure but due to planning issues, the plan for a studio in Bowness never came to fruition and John and his team continued to produce glass from the Blackpool site for over 18 years. In 2000 John realised his dream of living and working in the countryside when he bought Pointer House farm where Glasform is now located.

Over the years John has had the privilege of working with other skilled crafts people, not only in the field of glass but in other fields such as jewellery, architecture and lighting. John has no academic background; his skill as a glassmaker has been learnt not only from great masters but also from the love of glass and the experimenting that sometimes throws up great surprises. He describes himself as a craftsman; his skill, decorating molten glass.