The studio story of glass sculptor, Anna Dickinson
Words and Photographs Louise Long
Having weathered three decades of studios across South London, it was surely a natural decision to swap rising rents and shortening leases for the ease of a home studio. Yet in design terms, the challenge was far from straightforward for glass sculptor Anna Dickinson and her husband, the designer Dirk Van Dooren. Under the fastidious watch of the Dulwich estate, the couple envisioned not simply a bespoke work space befitting their 1959 family home and its verdant setting – but an environment which may hold the promise of new, richer working methods for Dickinson. The resulting workspace is a wonder to behold – light-filled and orderly, bristling with personal details and meticulous design solutions. Simply: as fresh and refined as Dickinson’s sculptures themselves.
An open-plan working and design space, encircled by essential machinery and divided by beloved furnishings – from raw wooden table tops salvaged from Tomato Design Co., to a trusty sink – commissioned on the model Dickinson had become attached to during four years teaching the Royal College of Art. Overhead, carefully-sourced LEDs serve to illuminate even the most hairline scratches for polishing out of glass, the lights infinitely dimmable for less scrupulous work.
Whittling down the requirements of workspace to its essentials was “a really therapeutic process” for Dickinson. Doing away with the hefty sand blaster and kiln used rarely more than twice a year, her experimental yet exacting practice is now elevated through close working relationships with specialist technicians – from her trusted glass caster, Croydon-based engineer and longtime friend and silversmith, Alex Brogdon.
The far side of the studio is where sculptures take shape – forms carved in wax for casting, or cold-worked by hand. Each work unique in concept, form, material and process – fine-tuned and refined over the course of several months. “I need things to be difficult,” Dickinson reveals, “when repetition creeps in, the excitement has gone”.
A former jewellery bench is given new life in the natural light of the garden window. Surmounted by metal-working samples, arrays of brushes and porcupine spines – collected from Italy by a friend for fine detailing, and a cardboard toolbox, lovingly painted by Dickinson’s son.
The library corner, with collected objects from Dickinsons’ early career penchant for travel and interest in African indigenous art. In recent years, her work has found inspiration closer to home, with a palette of greys, whites and earthy tones reflective of her London roots. “Every piece I make I make for myself”.
The subtle partition of the space allows for fluid and experimental design, as well as focused material working. On the central table, semi opaque glass has been rough cut. From here it is gritted on a small pottery wheel, filed by hand on the flatbed grinder or held under water on a jig, to be polished with Dickinson’s latest investment: an unusually quiet Swiss machine.
The central table – a former catering bench – is home to works-in-progress: works awaiting cutting or polishing, works idling time before finding harmony with other materials, or works in slow contemplation. Here, several pieces may be developed in parallel – one material at a time, to restrict mess. “Never before have I been able to work such a clean and tidy fashion!”
A shifting display of found, collected and commissioned objects from over the years, including a vase of delicate, finial-like hair pins designed for Gilli’s catwalks in the 1990s.
A stack of open shelving serves as an archive of past experiments and future works.
Industrial components for new works; materials reflective of the industrial feel of the studio as a whole – “it isn’t concealing anything – it is simply raw and confrontational”.
An expanse of sliding windows bathes the studio in natural light, whilst revealing the relaxed greenery of the adjacent garden, prevailed upon by Dulwich Woods.
A corner for handling models and components – the seeds of new designs, steeped in the language of industry.
A windowsill line-up of industrial cast-offs and skip finds – often donated by attentive friends – embodies Dickinson’s affinity for engineering material design.
Glistening enamel tests, let loose during the design process
A large accessible desk lends itself to Dickinson’s diligent process of note-taking, with ideas laid down in three books – a sketchbook, a diary and an archive of finished works. One entry notes the duration of a single work ‘December 2018 – May 2019’.
A glassmaker’s paintbox: colour samples, radiant under the natural light of the windows, in the company of Dickinson’s radical experiments in opaque glass casting.
From the front of the house, the sliding doors to the backroom of the studio masquerade as a garage door, whilst an angled path cuts round to the garden.