A Reflection of the Natural World, Preserved in Glass
A balance of tensions
Laura Smith, the artist behind Laura Elizabeth Glass, creates art that appears as though it always existed in nature. Frozen within each piece is the suggestion of a serene moment, like the calm at the edge of a storm, or the eye of a hurricane passing overhead. Smith forms the pieces through a careful control of ten- sions. Her work is born in extremely high temperatures. Unusual combinations of molten glass and metals resist one another as they cool, eventually creating her signature whorls and eddies.
The end result appears effortless, but Smith developed her distinctive style through years of study and hard work. “Glassblowing is very physical, and a little dangerous,” says Smith. “You have to learn so much before you can create something you have in your head.” She attended Edinburgh University for glassblowing, then spent four years working with London glass artist Adam Aaronson, but the learning began long before then.
Growing up on the island of Bermuda, she would visit a local glassblowing studio. “If you can overcome the heat when you first see glassblowing, it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush to watch,” says Smith. “I thought, ‘This is magical.’” She now has her own glass studio in London, as well as a retail space and a global clientele. She has made custom pieces for boutique cruise ships and international interior designers and, of course, bespoke glasswork for individuals.
Her process always starts with sketches, but no matter the job, the real work begins in the “hotshop,” where the furnace heats glass at about 1100oC. Despite the danger, the work can become unconscious. “It’s a rhythm,” she says. “You’re creating without really thinking.”
Smith doesn’t only use glass. Perhaps her most innovative technique is the incorporation of metals to achieve the ethereal wisps of cloud and color that define her work. The silver and gold she uses can be temperamental. If the glass is too hot, the metal will disappear.
Use too much at the wrong temperature, and the piece can destabilize and crack.
Elizabeth’s most prized metal, however, isn’t precious gold or silver. It’s copper foil, which is even more mercurial, generating wildly disparate results depending on temperature and the quantity she applies. But she revels in its variability and harnesses it for many different uses. It can take on a translucent blue shade like the sea surrounding Bermuda, or it can burn and blacken like storm clouds. “We’re very much at the whim of the elements there,” she says of her childhood home. “But the island’s also idyllic. We have pink beaches and crystal-clear waters. Something beautiful will always have an edge.”
Smith’s work reflects that fact at every stage. It’s there in the cloud patterns of her Nimbosus panel, and the soft oceanic luminescence of her Cascade chandelier. It’s present in the heat of the furnace, and in the tension between glass and metal.