Frankie Rickford catches up with glass artist Anthony Finnegan, from Castlefields, who is currently exhibiting at Bear Steps Art Gallery, together with fumage artist Caroline North (until April 23).
Anthony Finnegan is very familiar and popular in Castlefields, but many of his neighbours had no idea he was an accomplished glass artist until last week when a post appeared on Facebook about the latest exhibition at the town’s Bear Steps Gallery.
It’s Anthony’s first, having only started working with glass four years ago when he did a day workshop in stained glass-making at Studio Yi in Shrewsbury's Market Hall with multi-talented handcrafter and textile artist Brigitta Shuker. When he went back for a second workshop Brigitta told him, “You love glass. You should study it".
Born in Ireland, Anthony grew up and went to school in Shrewsbury, then followed his father into the construction industry. Now 56, he has travelled the world, working as an industrial climber and rope access technician - which means “doing anything that involves working at heights from a rope”!
Anthony was part of the team that built the Millennium Dome in London, and then moved to Cornwall to build the Eden project. He also helped build, and then managed, the first climbing wall in Bristol - in a church - in the early 1990s.
He returned to Shrewsbury in 2008 to work on the Coleham Head flood alleviation scheme, and then met his partner Jill Edbrooke. The pair lived together in Castlefields until 2013, when Jill fell ill and died from cancer.
“We had a fantastic five years, and had so many plans," Anthony says. There followed a difficult few years but he had always been interested in art and craft, so began exploring his own creativity at Studio Yi.
“I left school at 16 so I’ve got almost no qualifications, and I didn’t think university would accept me for a degree course. But when I asked at Wolverhampton university they said ‘Your life experience is your qualification’. I went for an open day, with a glass-blowing demonstration by Simon Eccles who is now my tutor, and I was entranced.”
(Sadly Anthony’s course at University of Wolverhampton, Applied Arts (glass and ceramics), is now closed to new students).
Asked what interests him about glass and what he enjoys most in the process of making it, Anthony said, "It's a spiritual journey you share with the glass from the moment you take a gather of liquid molten glass on the end of your iron to the moment you place the solid glass piece into the annealing oven.
"I love the colours in the hot glass that you only see in the making of it, while it's still extremely hot. Opening the door of the annealing oven the following day and see your pieces cool and touchable for the first time is like Christmas morning aged nine and you don't always get what you were expecting.
"The course has introduced me to a new world of creativity and expression of making art with raw ingredients, physical strength, determination, sweat, gravity, fire and a few primitive tools. It gives me purpose. It's been a great exhibition and I think Caroline's beautiful Fumage work and my blown glass look and work really well together. It's a shame Studio glass is so under appreciated in this country , it's massive in the states and the rest of Europe. I love the fact it's such an ancient art."
Anthony Finnegan is on Instagram: finnegansrainbowglass
You can see Anthony’s original and beautiful glass art at Bear Steps Gallery, St Alkmonds Place, Shrewsbury, until Saturday, 23 April. He is sharing the space with fumage artist Caroline North (pictured below) and ceramicist Philip Thomas (ceramics pictured below are 54 hexagonal bud vases which Philip has created as wedding favours!). The exhibition is open from 10am to 4pm daily. Read our blog about Caroline North HERE