Jane Murphy, glass maker, lives in a self built house at the edge of the little market town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire. She works in a wooden studio in the garden.
Three years ago Jane Murphy returned from Johannesburg with the intention of quietly living a handmade life in Shropshire. She and her husband, Bernard, built themselves a modest house in her mother’s garden, a simple cube with a mezzanine bedroom. What they have is pared down to just what they need and no more.
Jane originally trained as a studio potter doing a foundation at Worthing then three years at Croydon and a further year at Stafford in industrial ceramics. She arrived in Worthing from her school in Rhodesia with the intention of doing textiles but she was drawn to pottery as it was taught in “a nice warm flint barn”
In business terms Jane and her husband have been through the mill. In the Eighties her husband owned an earthenware factory in Bridgenorth. They were the second largest employer in the town with 120 workers. The changes of Thatcher’s Britain forced them to close.
They then moved to South Africa as Bernard found a job there, working for a German tile manufacturer. Jane worked on her own decorating tiles, this did so well that they started a business supplying transfers using local labour to colour in the transfers. Eventually with their two sons grown up, they returned to England, because they missed the seasons, were pleased to be ” somewhere you could walk in the woods at dusk and not be frightened ” and to have easy access to Europe again.
She began to work in glass as customers asked for glass tiles. Now she works entirely in glass and produces platters, ashtrays coasters and decorative panels. Her work is bold and colourful bringing the vibrancy of South Africa. Her standard pieces are priced from £5 to £55.
Jane works in Slump glass which she screen prints from her own original drawing then fills in blocks of colour.
“I have always been interested in industrial techniques I like to produce ten things the same then finish them in ten different ways. The narrow path pushes the creative process. you come across more techniques as you are re working the same parameters, needing to do something different each time.”
Jane is technically very innovative, discovering new ways of achieving effects but she is secretive about how she creates her finishes. She says other workers in glass are just as reluctant to share methods and although very friendly nobody asks How do you do that?
When she first came back, her work had African tribal themes and subjects , but Shropshire and the English countryside is leaching the colour and her latest important piece is an English landscape
This is a double thickness glass panel, the front carrying the black drawing and the sheet behind carrying the colour, the combination of the two making a stunning piece
The back sheet carrying the colour
The front sheet carrying the drawing
A detail of the workings on the front panel redolent of Samuel Palmer
Selling – some advice
“Only 25% of my sales are through galleries, my customers like to buy directly from me, when I go and get a coffee leaving my mother to cover on my stall, I miss a sale. I like to go to the same craft markets on a regular basis so that my customers will place orders. I will talk to anybody and let them rant and rave and tell me their sorrows as you need bodies at your stall to make sales.
I love the contact with fellow crafts people and suppliers. To do markets you need stoicism, a sense of humour and be able to relate to people. I am very lucky that the rain doesn’t damage my stock, a rainy day is a nightmare if you deal in books or sheepskins. Also you shouldn’t take too much stock People get frustrated by too much to choose from and they like to feel that what they are buying is individual.
I wouldn’t dream of doing an open studio, the very idea of it! Think of the potential for accidents and damage and for other glass makers to pick up my techniques.
I do have a blog but I’m not really interested in computing , I try to list the places I am due to be that month I get about 15-20 hits on a Monday.
Jane lives a simple domestic life. She cooks; sews; reads ( when we spoke she was reading Nadine Gordimer); walks her two dogs (a Jack Russell and a retired Greyhound); tends her garden and chickens. She says she has reached an age when she has few demands of life
“We have a six-year-old car, we have built ourselves a little home and I am quite happy with it, my material demands are very, very low.”
Jane is the first maker I’ve interviewed here who is totally unconcerned with income. When I asked her she said she didn’t know her income off the top of her head, her accountant would know. I thought she didn’t want to tell me but then she found a bit of paper and said its eighteen to twenty thousand a year.
Later I asked her for three wishes for next year she said
“When I get out of bed in the morning and come down and open the kiln I want to still be able to think to myself Hey Jane that’s good and I want my customers to go on recognising something good and also I’d like to find another regular arts and crafts market”
Then I asked her what she would do with a million pounds and she said replace the car and carry on as I am.– -Hours worked: 4 days 9-5pm –Yearly income: £18,000 – £20,000 —