Creating coral in glass

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Elena Fleury-Rojo’s latest collection depicts the “juxtaposition between the weight and durability of rock with the fragility and brittleness of glass”. Here, Elena writes about her love of travel and how she was inspired to recreate coral in glass. 


I studied glass artistry at a university in Buckinghamshire in the UK. I’d never experienced working in that medium before, but I liked the idea of trying something new. I had the opportunity to learn all forms of glasswork, including sand casting, kiln work, and glass blowing. I specialised in glass blowing as I found it particularly magical and enjoyed how physically demanding but satisfying it was. 

After university, I went backpacking for two years, exploring Australia, New Zealand, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan. I travelled for three months along the east coast of Australia and was very inspired by the ocean. Every chance I could get, I went swimming, snorkeling or diving. Next, I headed off to New Zealand, where I worked at the Wanganui Glass School. The head of department Nigel Jones provided me invaluable networking contacts at other glass blowing studios around New Zealand. Over the years, I’ve continued to enjoy travelling and I recently toured Mexico where I completed more than 12 dives, including ship wrecks and cenotes (natural pits or sinkholes).

Elena pictured in her studio

My new collection Reef Formations Volume 1 primarily investigates the juxtaposition between the weight and durability of rock with the fragility and brittleness of glass. Whilst in Mexico, I spent considerable time exploring natural underwater worlds. I was struck by the delicate and intricate beauty of the coral reef, but saddened by the ever-increasing scarcity of these natural forms. 

“I was struck by the delicate and intricate beauty of the coral reef, but saddened by the ever-increasing scarcity of these natural forms.”

With the traditional skills of flameworking in danger of becoming obsolete and no longer being passed down through active practice, it made sense to draw a parallel to the coral reefs themselves, which are similarly endangered. While glass can never accurately depict the organic complexity of a living coral, I believe it can capture a sense of the marine world’s fragility. Each piece from the collection involves flameworked borosilicate glass rods, which are manipulated in the flame and shaped into coral forms. I’m inspired by historic scientific illustrations of corals, which I find fascinating, and my studio is crammed with prints by the likes of Charles Darwin and Albertus Seba. I recently picked up a copy of The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel, which has become an invaluable resource.

I’m planning to release a second part of the collection later this year, where I want to draw inspiration from different coral designs and produce more complex shapes to really push my technical abilities to the limit. I’ve already begun to think about next year’s new collection – Message in a Bottle – which will be a continuation of this theme with the focus on investigating coral bleaching and reef damage. This will be realised by a series of glass bottles with different corals housed inside. Some will be vibrant and alive while others will demonstrate degeneration and bleaching as a result of environmental issues, such as global warming. 

Elena’s advice to artists who want to travel:

“Be open to opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask. I found a month-long internship with James Lethbridge RCA, a British glass artist living in Belgium, advertised on Facebook. And when I go to new places I always research to see if there are any glass artists or galleries. I believe meeting people in person is so much better to build quality connections.” 

Recently, I’ve started to offer flameworking workshops and courses, which I’m thoroughly enjoying. I prefer to teach one-to-one because of the technical nature of the craft and this allows me to more easily differentiate to participants’ abilities no matter what level of skill they have.

I’m very lucky to have a professional photographer as my best friend. Sophie Booth helps to bring my collections to life through images and the pictures shown here are from her latest shoot. 

Reef Formations Volume 1 is being shown at VK Gallery in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, from 1 May – 30 June 2022 at the gallery’s ‘Escape to the Coast’ exhibition.

All photos by @sophieboothphotography

Instagram: @redflowerglass