A 2.3million revamp has caused a boost in visitor numbers at National Glass Centre. Katy Wheeler went along to find out why.

Erwin Eisch exhibition at the National Glass Centre.
Erwin Eisch exhibition at the National Glass Centre.
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From a giant fish finger to a life-size gold Picasso head, and addressing political issues in war-torn Germany, Erwin Eisch’s work takes the audience through a gamut of emotions, from humour to serious thought and intrigue.

It’s fitting, therefore, that his thought-provoking exhibition, Clouds Have Been My Foothold All Along, should be the first major display at the new look National Glass Centre.

Until the 86-year-old became involved in a sculptural glass movement, the material was often used for functionality but he helped to change people’s perception of this most delicate of substances.

Kevin Petrie, professor of glass and ceramics at Sunderland University, who co-curated the exhibition, explained: “Erwin Eisch is famous in the glass world for being a pioneer of using glass as an art form. In the ’60s there were a number of interesting uses of glass for sculpture and Eisch was one of the key figures for that. “He came from a glass-making family in Bavaria, making drinking glasses, and when he became an artist he used those skills to make sculptural glass.”

He added: “When we were choosing an artist to feature in the first major exhibition after the relaunch we wanted to show someone who was important in the field of glass and ceramics, but also someone who would be challenging. There are other artists who are perhaps better known but we were keen to show someone with a diversity of work. Eisch works in different mediums, such as painting, print-making and drawing, as well as glass and ceramics. This exhibition is called Clouds Have Been My Foothold All Along, because a lot of his work is based on what’s going on between heaven and earth.

“The V&A in London, which has one of the world’s greatest collections of art and design, has recently bought one of his 
pieces.

“But unlike the V&A, where work is normally displayed in a glass case, Eisch and his family have been brave in letting us display the work so that people can get up close to it. We did that deliberately.”

The exhibition is one in a host of new attractions, features and interactive sessions at the National Glass Centre which are bringing in around 1,000 visitors a day.

Kevin said: “We’ve had a really good response from people. There’s a lot to see here, which is what we wanted. We deliberately have a lot of work to see in the galleries, which will host four large exhibitions a year, as well as on the balcony galleries, which change every six weeks.

“Some people have said they don’t like certain pieces, but when we do an exhibition we want it to be interesting, it isn’t necessarily a case of everyone liking it. Numbers have been really good and there’s a real buzz about the place.”

New equipment on site, including one of the biggest kilns in Western Europe, are helping to foster celebrated glass artists of the future who are given the chance to display their work at the Glass Centre alongside world-renown names.

“We have 150 students studying in the building and have one of the best-equipped facilities in glass and ceramics in Europe,” added Kevin. “We really hope the people of Sunderland are proud of their glass making and ceramics heritage, as well as what’s going on today also.”

l Erwin Eisch, Clouds Have Been My Foothold All Along, is on display at National Glass Centre until September 22. The centre, in St Peter’s, Sunderland, is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free.