In 1995 North Lands Creative Glass was established in Lybster, a small fishing village in Caithness on the Far North East Coast of Scotland, to stimulate the growing interest in the possibilities of glass as an art form. From the start it aimed to become an international centre of excellence in glass making, encouraging collaboration with other artforms.
The inspiration for North Lands Creative Glass came from Robert Maclennan, at that time Member of Parliament for Caithness and Sutherland. He developed the idea of an international centre for glass in Caithness with Dan Klein, one of the world’s experts in studio glass, and Professor Keith Cummings of the University of Wolverhampton.
The first master class was given in 1996 by Bertil Vallien, the legendary Swedish artist, who returned to Lybster in 2002 to lead another class. Other master class leaders have included notable glass artists: Tessa Clegg; Irene Frolic; Mieke Groot; Richard Meitner; Klaus Moje; Joel Philip Myers; Dante Marioni; Richard Marquis; Jan Erik Ritzman; Paul Stankard and Ann Wolff. Sculptors: Tony Cragg; Richard Deacon; David Nash and Richard Wentworth, and the Scottish painter Adrian Wiszniewski, have figured among course leaders from disciplines other than glass.
The first Artistic Director was Professor Keith Cummings of Wolverhampton University. He was succeeded by Tessa Clegg, winner of the 1999 Jerwood Prize (1997-1998), Elizabeth Swinburne (1999-2002) and Jane Bruce (2002 – 2007) formerly senior lecturer at the Glass Workshop at Canberra School of Art, part of the Australian National University. Peter Aldridge became Chief Executive Officer in 2006 and also took over the role of Artistic Director in 2008. On his resignation in August 2008, Dan Klein, Chairman of the Advisory Council became the honorary interim Artistic Director until the appointment of glass artist Mieke Groot, in October 2009. Lorna O’Brien, formerly of the V&A, joined as Innovation & Business Development Director in 2011. The current Artistic Director is leading glass artist Emma Woffenden who joined in October 2013.
In July 2002 the new fully equipped state of the art Alastair Pilkington Studio, designed and developed by Elizabeth Swinburne, was opened by H.R.H. Prince Charles. It is situated in the refurbished Lybster Old School, a handsome limestone building constructed in 1870. The purchase of the studio was made possible by the generosity of Lady Pilkington who in 1998 offered to sell her late husband’s collection of glass to enable North Lands to buy the building. Further substantial funding came from the Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund, Caithness & Sutherland Enterprise, The Foundation for Sport and the Arts and a number of charitable foundations and private individuals.
North Lands acquired and refurbished the Old School House adjacent to the Studio in 2004 to provide a library and residential accommodation for artists on campus. The international interest in the master classes and residencies has encouraged North Lands to meet further demand by increasing the number of master classes. It is also planned to widen the potential for developing special projects and generally fostering a spirit of permanent enquiry into the artistic possibilities of glass.
2014 has seen the completion of capital developments to extend the Studio and residential accommodation. The development project was funded with the generous support of European Regional Development Fund, W Grant & Sons Charitable Trust, Dan Klein Memorial Fund, Creative Scotland, Highland Council Discretionary Fund and Friends of North Lands Creative Glass. A new light, bright and airy Studio workshop space has been created and a Pinelog Lodge installed which provides new accommodation for visiting artists, makers and community groups.