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Ysart Tradition and Scottish Glass 2005


Reported by Nigel Benson

Photographs by Denis Hebden

Perth Museum & Art Gallery - August 6th and 7th 2005

Frank Andrews - Conference Organiser

Conference organiser Frank Andrews
Introducing conference and speakers.

The conference ran over two days, 6 & 7 August 2005, and was organised using the Internet, from inception through to registration. An idea by New Zealand glass collector, Bill Smith, using the pages of the Ysart Glass message board on, to pressurise its moderator, Frank Andrews to plan a meeting, culminated in a highly successful weekend for both learning and socialising.

Speakers included two glass blowers, Dave Moir and Peter Holmes, who had trained and worked with members of the Ysart family – Vincent and Paul respectively; Catherine Rae, Vincent’s daughter; Ian Turner, historian and writer about Monart (and past President of the GA); Brian Blench, retired Keeper of Decorative Arts at Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries, Scotland, and founding chairman of the Scottish Glass Association; Kevin Holt a collector and researcher of paperweights; and Ray Metcalfe, dealer in paperweights.

Ian Turner Monart Glass researcher

Conference speaker Ian Turner
Monart Glass.

The proceedings began with Ian Turner who discussed areas of the history of the Moncrieff firm not generally known, along with techniques used by the Ysarts to achieve the wares that they produced. Particularly interesting was the insight Ian gave us into how he obtained much of his research material through Betty Reid, who had answered an advert that Ian had put in a Scottish paper asking for either information on the company, or for pieces that people might which to part with. Betty was the Despatch Clerk at Moncrieff ‘s, the firm that produced Monart. When the company closed she saw the documents in a skip, and to her eternal credit, rescued as much as she possibly could. One should bear in mind that this was done at a time when the hobby of ‘skip-diving’ was not common and would have probably been frowned upon. Without this rich resource many questions about Monart production would remain forever unanswered.

During his talk Ian discussed the use of coloured enamels and their source within the various firms that the Ysart family worked with. An important feature of, Monart, Vasart and Strathearn, as well as subsequently Ysart influenced glass is what was referred to as the ‘Ysart Swirl’. This is a swirl of colour produced within the glass by using a metal tool with a whirling action to produce the swirl whilst the metal is still on the blowing iron. This technique was imparted to some apprentices and glass blowers and can be traced from the original wares through Caithness Glass and is currently used by Peter Holmes in his art glass production, and in Franco Toffolo’s work. Dave Moir, who has only recently returned to glass making after being away since he left Strathearn Glass when they ceased production of coloured art glass is now making vessels using this same decorative technique. During the break immediately after the talk Ian Turner formally donated all his original documents to Perth Museum and Art Gallery. These consisted mainly of various Monart catalogues, including the lighting catalogue that was featured within Ian’s article on the subject in The Journal, Vol.7. His correspondence with Betty Reid also formed part of the donation. Councillor Elizabeth Grant of Perth and Kinross District Council accepted the donation on behalf of Perth Museum and Art Gallery in a ceremony that was separate from the conference.

Kevin Holt Paperweight Researcher

Kevin Holt
Ysart and Scottish paperweights.

Kevin Holt was introduced as a glass archaeologist, rather than historian. He discussed his observations and theories regarding the use of canes and their dating in Ysart paperweights and their successors made at Perthshire Paperweights, by Willy Manson, John Deacons and Peter Holmes.

Kevin talked about the use of an ‘S’ cane, the butterfly cane and their origins and importance. The use of canes in Monart glassware and their relationship to paperweight use and dating was of particular interest. Frank Eisner weights and their dating were also discussed. Much of what Kevin spoke about had not been resolved, but he took the opportunity to lay out his thoughts to an audience who might well give input to Kevin’s ‘archaeology’ of the subject.

Vasart paperweight cane
Vasart paperweight cane
Vasart paperweight cane
Vasart paperweight cane
Vasart paperweight cane
Vasart paperweight cane

PY & Vasart

Dave Moir Scottish Glass craftsman

Dave Moir
Former Vasart and Strathearn glassmaker.

This was a major chance to listen to and meet blowers who had known and worked with the Ysarts and to discuss the influence on their own work. It was the first time Dave Moir had spoken in public of his time as a glassblower. He regaled us with his reminiscences of working with Vincent Ysart. Dave discussed techniques and difficulties in producing items of Vasart and Strathearn Glass. He stated quite categorically that the Tulip lamp, that was made by both firms, was technically the most difficult thing that they produced. Indeed Perthshire Paperweights, who later copied the idea, never did manage to produce these lamps with the kink in the glass at its base to allow for the wire to access the bulb holder. Apparently friggers were made on a daily basis. They are difficult to identify now and do not have any form of identification that would help the collector. The room found Dave’s memories and the information spellbinding.
Catherine Rae (nee Ysart)

Catherine Rae (nee Ysart)
Daughter of Vincent & Catherine Ysart.

Vincent Ysart glassmaker

Vincent Ysart

The afternoon finished with a personal view of the Ysart family given by Catherine Rae. She entertained us all with family photographs, many of which had not been seen in public before. The photographs stimulated comment and allowed Catherine to interject with many anecdotes. Both Catherine and Ian Turner had substantially adapted their standard talks to cater for an audience that had more than a passing knowledge on the subject, which was highly successful and greatly appreciated by the meeting.
Brian Blench Scottish Glass Historian

Brian Blench
Scottish Glass Historian.

On the Sunday morning proceedings were initiated by Brian Blench, having discussed the ethics of being a museum keeper whilst collecting personally, set Ysart glass into its context within the history of Scottish glass production. The lecture started with the outlining of movement of glassworkers as far back as the sixteenth century and the legal limitations put upon them. This was likened to the movement of glass workers in the twentieth century. Brian chose to use Jenkins of Edinburgh as the start for modern Scottish glass history, touching on the production of James Couper & Sons and the designs of both Dr Christopher Dresser and George Walton.

The First World War affected the Scottish glass industry badly, such that new workers were required. This is where the Ysarts history begins within Scottish glass. However, since the audience were aware of the Ysart history, Brian then discussed the hugely influential affect of Helen Monroe, her rise within the glass industry at Edinburgh & Leith and her work both as an engraver and as teacher within Edinburgh College of Art. Her strength of purpose and her ideas about design being linked to glass making were to be particularly significant to post-war glass making. It was she who re-introduced the art of engraving on glass in the UK, but she did not force it onto her pupils preferring to allow them to show their own interest within the canon of glass making and design. Her influence can still be felt today through the work of Alison Geissler and Alison Kinnaird.

Here Brian returned to the Ysarts talking about Isobel Moncrieff’s A Friendly Talk on Monart Ware of 1925 and its use as a marketing tool. Having spoken generally about adaptability of the Ysarts as glassblowers the talk moved onto Strathearn Glass and Perthshire Paperweights, their physical proximity in Crieff, and their rivalry. Then followed the rise of Caithness Glass, initially under the auspices of Domhnall OBroin as Managing Director and Chief Designer, then through Colin Terris, another of Helen Monroe’s graduates. Although Paul Ysart was taken on as Training Officer and Technical Advisor the paperweights produced by the company took a distinct turn toward the abstract style as opposed to the traditional milleflori. Mention was made of John Laurie, the stained glass designer, who took over at the College of Art and his successor Ray Flavell, bringing us through to production and influences nowadays.
Peter Holmes Glassmaker

Peter Homes
Master glassmaker and
paperweight artist.

We were then treated to a short film about Colin Terris and Caithness Glass, which gave a rare opportunity to see Paul Ysart at work during a piece of the film that had been provided by Ian Turner as an extra event within the agenda. Paul would have been sixty-four at the time, but he still made blowing look easy.

Peter Holmes talked of his time as an apprentice to Paul Ysart and what it was like to work with a man who had high demands. We were treated to a number of personal anecdotes about Paul, as well as being given an insight into the man himself. When Peter set up Selkirk Glass they were having trouble with the mix and Paul’s advice was sought on the ‘phone. The problems did not abate, so Paul travelled down and spent several days sorting out the problem. The first melt, although poor, was used up by making ‘Monart’. Peter continued by talking about Paul and his time at Caithness, followed by the period making paperweights at Harland and the closing of that period of Ysart history. Peter’s son, Andrew, is now his apprentice at Scottish Borders Art Glass, so continuing the history of Scottish glass and the Ysart influence.

Ray Metcalfe SweetBriar Gallery

Ray Metcalfe
SweetBriar Gallery

Our last lecture was from the dealer’s perspective and was given by Ray Metcalfe, who explored the investment history and potential of Ysart paperweights. Ray proclaimed that he felt Paul’s weights, marked with the ‘PY’ cane as the best and most collectable. He showed a number of similar examples of weights giving the difference in pricing over various periods of time. Thanks were given to the various contributors and those who helped to make the conference run so smoothly. Sadly the major organiser, Marie Aitken, who put in so much of the groundwork in Perth, passed away earlier this year. Naturally she was thanked, along with Alice MacLennan, Carol Booth and Mary Houston. In turn Mary proposed a vote of thanks to Frank Andrews as overall organiser. The general feeling by delegates was that much had been learnt and many pieces of history had been added to the story of the Ysarts, putting a number of things into context.

© 2005 Nigel Benson – An article originally published in the GLASS CONE No. 71, Summer Issue, Oct 2005, the magazine of the Glass Association. (With different pictures).

All photographs on this page are © 2005 Denis Hebden.

Nigel Benson has a website at

Kevin Holt’s research is published online at

Peter Holmes studio has a website at

Ray Metcalfe’s Sweetbriar Gallery is at

The Scottish Glass Society is online at

The Glass Association can be found at

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