Glassmaking Studio Has a True Ring to It

Studio in Scotland creates glass with a minimum of ornamentation

BOLD simplicity is more daring than overblown complicated ness. In today's crafts and design climate, for every boldly simple work there are a thousand over-decorated, exaggerated objects.

The studio glass produced at Lindean Mill, Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders, is of the bold and simple kind. It has balance and weight, clear contour, and feels strong and right in the hand.

Lindean Mill Glass, in spite of its location, has nothing Scottish about it. It is run by an American, David Kaplan, and his Swedish wife, Annica Sandstrom. Mr. Kaplan established the studio in 1977, and Ms. Sandstrom has designed here since 1978. The two are established glassmakers with works in numerous museums and international collections, and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Conn., sells their work.

Particularly telling is the way color is used in the Lindean bowls, vases, candleholders, tumblers, glasses, and beakers. When Kaplan talks to students about glassmaking he advises: ''Form comes first. Color second.'' If a piece does not work in clear glass, no amount of seductive coloration is going to improve it.

Just six colors are used mainly -- almost always a single color per piece. The colors are distinct, transparent -- and certainly seductive: ruby, blue, green, topaz, dark green, and purple. Few if any pieces are colored in every part. There is a clear division between clear and colored.

A range of six bowls introduced in 1993 are of an open form with lively, graceful profiles. The bowl form is supported on a substantial columnar stem and firm circular foot. These bowls come in the six Lindean colors. But the color, evenly casing the inner surface of the bowl, does not extend to the stem and foot.

Tumblers, vases, and candleholders in another range are clear crystal except for an applied thread of colored glass on their rims. In some pieces, the color is restricted to the foot. The potential waywardness of color is kept in its place. Classic restraint is brought to a ''liquid'' medium which tempts many glassmakers into a display of facile brilliance.

By the nature of the medium, however, these confined areas of color sometimes transmit themselves by inner reflections to other uncolored parts of a vessel -- an unexpected optical delight. You suddenly notice a pool of blue-green or deep red-purple in a place you know is really only clear glass.

Kaplan is matter-of-fact about his work. He evidently feels it should be allowed to speak for itself. He says, ''It just sells itself.'' It needs little promotion, though he attends fairs to show new work to potential dealers.

Most Lindean work sells outside Britain, mainly in the United States. Work is sold at the studio itself (where seconds are also available -- still very fine work, but, because of tiny imperfections it sells at half the price). The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh is the chief British outlet.

Visiting the studio, one will likely have the opportunity to watch Kaplan and his two assistants work. Glassmaking is endlessly demanding and permits few days off per year: The furnace, consuming fuel without let up, must be used to the full.

Glassmaking is also a calm, seemingly routine performance mixing concentrated coordination and precise procedures with a touch of absent-mindedness. A sense of control pervades the small workshop -- essential when forming hot molten glass into a vessel of exact measure.

Though Lindean Mill glassware is hand-finished in every detail -- each piece signed and dated -- Kaplan spent a year in a mass-production glassworks (Boda, in Sweden). It proved valuable experience when he set up in production himself. His previous training had been in the craft, more than in the industry, of glassmaking. But he recognizes that even in studio production the aim should be to make ''each tumbler or bowl in a range identical,'' he says.

The requirements of a standard design, once it is settled after many experimental prototypes, are precise. In the event, each piece has character of its own, subtly different from its fellows, a ''handmade'' feel that is the outcome of traditional skills practised, with exacting dedication, in this small personal workshop. But this craft quality is not pretentious or self-conscious.

When I first visited Lindean, I noticed, perched on a windowsill in the glassmaking couple's dining room, some prototypes for a new range. These were colorless vases with round columnar stems made of horizontal seams or stripes of contrasting, opaque colors. The colors were as vivid, rich, or dark as precious stone.

Kaplan had earlier explained that the colors they use come either in chips (not unlike colored sugar) or rods. There was a cupboard at the back of the studio packed with these wonderful (German-made) rods of pure colored glass. They would be used to make the bold bright stems of the proposed new range of vases.

Both Kaplan and Sandstrom were students at the school of one of Sweden's premier studio glass establishments -- Orrefors. The aesthetic of their own production ware (and also of their separate and different individual studio pieces) is rooted in Orrefors practices, though branching out from them.

It cannot be a complete coincidence that these new vases with stems of layered color have something in common with the ''pop'' goblets designed for Orrefors Glasbruk in 1966 by Gunnar Cyren. But these (inspired, according to Cyren, by tropical fish and such 1960s phenomena as Carnaby Street in London and Mary Quant's brightly colored street fashions) ceased production at Orrefors in about 1979. They have gone down in glass history as an Orrefors success.

Sandstrom points out that it was she who designed the Lindean colored-stem vases and that although ''the technique, colors, and proportions are all different, the result reminded us of Cyren's pop goblets. We call them 'GC' vases as a tribute.''

These are distinguished by the notable restraint, bold form, and optical opulence that are the stamp of Lindean Mill Glass.

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