Lesley is a glass act!

By Kate MaxwellWHEN Lesley Pyke arrived in a remote corner of Suffolk she brought a bit of a sparkle to village life.For Lesley, who lives in Spexhall near Halesworth, is one of a select band worldwide of glass engravers.

By Kate Maxwell

WHEN Lesley Pyke arrived in a remote corner of Suffolk she brought a bit of a sparkle to village life.

For Lesley, who lives in Spexhall near Halesworth, is one of a select band worldwide of glass engravers.

Her fragile work adorns the cabinets and homes of people great and small, from heads of state to babes in arms.

“Glass is such an alluring and baffling medium,” she said. “It's something to do with the three-dimensional changes you get when the light shines on it. I've been captivated from first time I scratched on it with a diamond pencil.”

That was twenty years ago in Zimbabwe, Africa, the country of her birth. Over the next two decades she built up a thriving business, with a small factory in an industrial complex employing several people.

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A year ago, however, Lesley had to leave all that behind. Political problems within the country made being a white boss almost untenable, and she began to fear for her personal safety. Family problems prompted action; she left, arriving in Britain with a laptop computer, one small dentist's drill, and two pairs of jeans. She had left behind most her equipment and her life's work.

Now in the corner of a cottage living room, surrounded by open East Anglian skies and farmland, she is starting, quite literally, from scratch.

Poised in silence under a lamp, wearing magnifying goggles, she etches intricate designs on to vases, plates, goblets and tankards with a dentist's drill fitted with an industrial diamond.

Her smallest works are fragments of glass made into earrings; her largest commissions have included pub mirrors and glass doors measuring several square feet.

Since arriving in Suffolk, and being elected a craft member of the exclusive Guild of Glass Engravers, Lesley has been creating beautiful new works.

One is currently on display in the Buckenham Gallery in Southwold, with a price tag of £525. Measuring four inches high and about seven inches wide, it depicts some large pond fish glittering in a blue glass and gold leaf bowl.

Another of her prestige pieces is called the Bowl of Sea, which was on exhibition in a West End gallery in London last summer and was later bought by a private collector.

The crystal bowl, individually blown, is made from clear and blue glass, into which Lesley has carved a foaming, bubbling sea and swooping gulls.

At £600 such pieces are beyond the pocket of most people, but Lesley also does plenty of special occasion work such as wedding, anniversary and retirement gifts.

“I do a lot of everyday things, too,” she said. “Sometimes people bring me things to engrave - such as two champagne glasses that are all that remain from a wedding gift set, the rest having been broken, which they want engraved as a special gift for a son or daughter getting married.”

Recently a client brought her two extremely valuable 19th century crystal goblets.

“I told the woman that if I engraved on them it would destroy their antique value, but she was adamant. She'd been given them as a family heirloom when she was married fifty years ago and she wanted to engrave them with the family crest for her children to inherit one day.”

Her subjects are also extremely varied - from African animals to fairies, butterflies and buildings, to the Queen.

Among her works since arriving in Suffolk is a decanter for a Halesworth golf club member's 70th birthday, and a picture of Bramford primary school engraved on a vase for a retiring teacher, and dogs….

“People just love dogs in this country,” she says. “I've done so many.”

Southwold scenes have started to feature on some of her vases, and in the past she has created designs of peacocks and palm trees on glass doors and mirrors both for private homes and public hotel bars.

Her simplest commissions - and cheapest at around £15 - are usually for anniversaries and consist of a name carved with a flourish, and a small delicate design such as a flower.

“But some people want something more elaborate like a coat of arms or bring me a favourite vase and say they don't mind how much it costs!” she said.

“Sometimes people bring their own designs or drawings which I size up my computer, and then I trace the outlines on the glass with a fine drill.”

“Recently someone asked me to do an engraving of a thatcher doing a roof for a Christmas present - that was a first!”

Her work has been used for presentations to many famous people, including golf champion Nick Price, Zimbabwe's notorious president Robert Mugabe, and the head of an American global oil company.

But Lesley's head is not easily turned by fame; she is equally happy depicting a favourite cat, horse, dog or even cow on a drinking glass, knowing it will be treasured and loved by the person who receives it as a special and unique gift.

· Lesley will be presenting a talk on glass engraving at Blythburgh WI on March 12.

Her email address is Llespyke@aol.com.

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