I think we need to give John Northwood a bit more kudos regarding his incredible achievement back in the 1870s, and also put Stephenâs impressive and laudable aim into fuller perspective. John Northwood earned himself a place in glass history (well he did for me, anyhow) for his superb recreation of the Portland Vase. He is generally credited with being the first person to revive the âancientâ art of cameo glass (the original Portland vase is 2000 years old).
In the 1870s, Northwood was commissioned to undertake the work, which took him three years to complete. I believe that there was a heart stopping moment when the almost complete vase was washed in warm water and split in two. Fortunately it was mended and completed.
Almost seven years ago I visited Wheeling in West Virginia â the town that John Northwoodâs son, Harry (also a famous glass maker) made his home, after leaving England. While we were there we were privileged to visit the home of the late Elizabeth (Betty) Robb, grand daughter of Harry Northwood and great aunt of David and Mary McKinley (David is the owner of the New Northwood Art Glass).
Miss Robb was a delight. She was a charming lady with fond memories of her grandfather who had obviously meant a great deal to her. He was a focal figure in her young days and she mused on the fact that even though he must have been very busy running the glass factory, he always had time for her. Particularly she recalled a time when the circus came to Wheeling and she stood hand in hand with her grandpa, watching the elephants go by.
The walls of Miss Robbâs house were adorned with Harry Northwoodâs paintings and other mementos; precious memories from a by-gone age. But one special piece of art gave an insight into the real Harry Northwood, who was clearly his fatherâs son. The item in question was an exquisite cameo of Shakespeare that had been carved by Harry at the tender age of 22, just after he emigrated from England and set up his first home in the USA. It is a superb piece of glass, just an inch or two in height, with fine detail indicative of much patient work. The late William Heacock reported on this incredible item in his Glass Collecting journal (and also in his book on Harry Northwood). Heacock also noted that Berry Wiggins had found the actual document in an 1882 trade journal that described the item thus: âIt surpassed in artistic design, fine workmanship and beauty of effect any work by any other process. Mr Northwood came from England less than a year ago and brought this new idea with him.â
The cameo was kept inside a showcase in Miss Robbâs home â she kindly unlocked it for me, removed it and carefully placed it in my hands. Truthfully, I was trembling. It was a privilege to hold the cameo â it fits snugly into the palm of oneâs hand â and know that Harry Northwood actually held it too, while creating this work of art. We have a slide of Harryâs cameo but itâs not easy to show it here. The best photo I have seen of the item is in Heacockâs âHarry Northwood The Early Yearsâ â you can see the little round box that it is kept in too.
If youâre interested in seeing Miss Robb and the McKinleys, hereâs the photo we took:
Top row, left to right:
David McKinley (descendant of John Northwood) and his wife, Mary. On the right, Steve Thistlewood
Bottom row, left to right:
Miss Robb, and me (Glen)http://www.geocities.com/carni_glass_uk_2000/Miss_Robb_Wheeling.html
Stephen, I wish you good fortune and much luck in this amazing challenge â you will be making footprints in glass history.