Jane Bruce, who from 2002 to 2007 served as the artistic director of North Lands Creative Glass (before the word "Glass" was removed from its title) is investigating ways to save the studio, buildings, and equipment of this European center for glass along the windswept coast of Northeast Scotland. As debts mounted over the past year, the staff was let go, and recently, the facilities have been secured and a liquidator has been assigned to sell off the assets of this beloved institution that dates back to 1996. For decades, it drew artists from around the world to the Scottish coastal fishing village of Lybster in the county of Caithness. Bruce is actively looking to partner with other artists who might want to invest in saving the infrastructure from being sold off, and to restart the furnaces and kilns in a newly structured organization that may or may not become again an officially registered charity. The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet had an opportunity to discuss the fast-moving situation with Bruce in an in-person interview in the offices of UrbanGlass, the nonprofit art center in Brooklyn, New York, that publishes Glass: The UrbanGlass Art Quarterly as well as this online publication.
The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: Where do things stand at the moment? It sounds like time is of the essence if you are looking to rescue some of the facilities from liquidation?
Jane Bruce: I wrote to the liquidation firm and received a reply that they are still in the process of appointing agents to deal with the physical assets. I am also making sure they understand that many items in the North Lands Collection were donated and therefore there may be issues around whether they can be sold off to cover the debts. We are waiting for answers.
Glass: There are other places to study glass, in the United States and in Europe. With places like Pilchuck and Penland, why is it so important to try to preserve North Lands?
Bruce: Yes, but none of them are on the North Sea, in the Scottish Highlands. And North Lands Glass was not like Pilchuck and Penland which are very isolated. North Lands is in a village, you meet the locals, stay with the locals in the BnBs, so they’re integrated. Artists and students get to know the local community. But it also had very good facilities, it had the most beautiful cold shop I’ve ever seen. And then there's the area's deep, deep history that becomes part of the experience with 4,000-year-old cairns, a 12th-century church, and a wide variety of other historical sites. There's simply nothing like it anywhere. I've always thought of North Lands as a place for mature artists as we rarely got young kids or college students, it has been mostly career artists or very dedicated amateurs who have made the trip to take the courses.
Glass: Can you talk a bit about how North Lands began, do you know the origin story?
Bruce: The local Member of Parliament for Caithness, Robert Maclennan, who was passionate about the arts and equally passionate about Caithness, went to university with Dan Klein, the great art auctioneer and expert who was a champion of glass. One day Bob asked Dan whether he thought an art museum might help the economically depressed county he represented, and Dan suggested a school or a cultural center based around glass. Iain Gunn, with his wife, Bunty, owned an old workshop in Lybster and offered it to Bob, and that's where the first classes were taking place when I started as artistic director in 2002. When North Lands later built the studio, the old workshop became the offices.
Glass: Do you think you might be able to organize funding to buy some of the North Lands real estate, equipment, and facilities back from liquidation? And what would you do with it if you were able to do something?
Bruce: I've been contacting artists and others who might be interested to see whether we might be able to organize something. I can see three possible scenarios. Well, we could set up a new charity so we can move forward when the debts are paid off. Or we might set up an LLC, which might cut down on the number of grants but we could make a go of it as a business that sustains itself. But even if not an official charity, there are still grants that can be applied for, and that would definitely be part of the plan. Recently a group like minded artists have formed SNG (Save North Lands Glass Group), and they are working hard to see what if anything can be done to save and restructure North Lands as a going concern.
Glass: It sounds like such an ambitious undertaking, why would you take something like that on?
Bruce: Because I know what it could go back to being. North Lands Creative Glass touched so many people’s lives, made such a huge difference with many artists returning as many times as they could. For me, my whole last 15 years of work has been based on experiences I've had and inspirations I've gotten from going to Caithness.
Glass: If someone were interested in supporting the effort to save North Lands, what is the best way to reach you?
Bruce: They can email me at email@example.com or post on the Facebook Page of the SNG group, which is a dedicated Facebook Page where future updates on the situation will be posted as soon as information becomes available.