Display of glass ships in bottles drops anchor at historic Sunderland site

Dr Ayako Tani at Mackie's Corner.
Dr Ayako Tani at Mackie's Corner.
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Sunderland’s role in the popularity of glass ships in bottles will be celebrated in a new exhibition in an iconic city building.

Dr Ayako Tani, a glass artist and researcher, is displaying her private collection of 150 glass ships in bottles in an exhibition at Mackie’s Corner which will run until Thursday, March 21.

Ayako is originally from Tokyo and came to the UK in 2006 when she arrived to study a degree at the University of Sunderland.

She was awarded a PhD from the university in 2014 for her research into the art of glass, and began her freelance artist practice in 2015.

“The idea of making glass bottles in ships started in the city in the 1960s and was popular among scientific glassblowers who worked producing items for laboratories.

However, it really took off in the 1980s and 1990s when the city’s traditional industries, including glass, were in decline,” explained Ayako.

“So as shipbuilding disappeared from the Wear, another culture of shipbuilding arose in Sunderland – that of glass ships in bottles.

Being led by the skilful scientific glassblowers from the local Pyrex factory, the culture of glass ships in bottles developed from a cottage industry to a viable commercial enterprise.

“In the early 1990s more than 10,000 glass ships in bottles per month were made in Sunderland and exported around the world.

The Mackie’s Corner exhibition is about celebrating the beauty of these ships and exploring the history of glass ship-building in Sunderland and the UK,” she added.

Ayako has spent several years archiving this local history and has built up her own collection of glass ships in bottles which are on show.

The exhibition is part of a wider project called Vessels of Memory: Glass Ships in Bottles, which started with an exhibition at National Glass Centre last summer.

The project also involves talks on models and the restoration of ships, the shipbuilding history of Sunderland, and shipyard cultures.

Ayako is also working to create a huge ship in a bottle, made entirely out of discarded plastic.

•Mackie’s Corner was built in 1845 on the site of a large house owned by Dr William Clanny, inventor of the miners’ safety lamp. The building’s first tenant was Robert Mackie, a hatter. The shop attracted passers-by as his workers could be seen through the windows.