Meet The Maker: Jerpoint Glass
I was delighted to get the chance to have a chat with Rory Leadbetter from the wonderful Jerpoint Glass in Kilkenny – a family business that has been producing gorgeous mouth-blown and handcrafted glassware for over 40 years!
Each beautiful snowflake Christmas tree decoration that you unwrapped in your Winter Wonderland boxes was individually crafted by either Rory or James Long (the other glass blower at the studio) and is a sparkling testament to the skill and dedication of their work.
I caught up with Rory just before Christmas - a busy time for any craftsman - and was astonished that he had actually managed to produce three glasses during the call! When I voiced my amazement, he just chuckled and said: “That’s what happens when your Mum is the boss of the place – there’s no slacking!”.
So read on to learn a bit more about the family roots of this wonderful supplier, who we are proud to work with in our mission of bringing the best of Ireland just that little bit closer to home.
Tell us a bit about Jerpoint Glass and the products that you make there?
Jerpoint Glass was founded here in Kilkenny by my parents, Keith & Kathleen Leadbetter, in the late seventies, and they started out making mostly stemware with a few other bits and pieces. Over the years they started expanding the range, introducing bowls, all kinds of jugs and the like, to the point that today I think we make around eighty different pieces – each in a range of different colours.
Do you have any favourite gifts that you make at the studio in Kilkenny?
It depends on my humour, I suppose. Every piece is so individual that there’s different things about each you can take to on different days for whatever reason.
There’s some things that you can just get into a rhythm with, while others take a lot more individual focus. There’s a round jug that we do that I really enjoy making, as it was one of the first pieces that I was given responsibility over when I started in 2006, and there’s just something about it that I love going back to.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Snowflake Christmas ornament that our subscribers found in their Winter Wonderland boxes this month?
Yes – these are actually one of my favourite ornaments to make! We’ve only been producing them for maybe three years, and it was never really something that we actively advertised – but a few people have started taking notice of late, and they’re proving to be really popular.
We create the shape with a tool that essentially looks like a potato masher, with the outline of the snowflake on it. We gather the glass and put it onto a steel table and make an indentation in the middle of each piece, then press down with the tool to create the lovely little delicate snowflake shape that you see on the ornament. The next step is to drill a hole at the top so the final product can be hung and displayed on your Christmas trees.
How would you describe a typical day’s work at Jerpoint Glass, if such a thing exists?
I’m not so sure it does to be honest… we’re a small business, with just myself and James creating the products day in and day out. Sometimes to get the job done, you need to sort out the five or six tasks that are waiting in line before you can begin – and we’re always coming up against unexpected challenges. For example, yesterday we had a power outage that we definitely could have done without, which made it impossible to make the glasses that we had planned on finishing that day - so of course that completely changes our itinerary for today. I’ve actually been making them on the phone while we’ve been chatting – it pays to be a good multi-tasker in our line of work!
On your average day of glass-blowing we come in at around seven in the morning, empty the kiln of the glasses that we’ve made the day before, and turn it on till it reaches the right temperature – usually about an hour or so. As soon as that oven goes on we’re hard at work until we put the last round of designs into the kiln at about four o’clock – then we start to prepare the studio to start all over again in the morning.
It’s a busy day; we work fast, but with the utmost attention to detail, ensuring that we not only meet demand for products, but that each handcrafted piece is truly special and unique – almost as though every item is bespoke.
What makes Jerpoint Glass and their products different from other companies?
I would say there's probably less than ten companies in Europe that make glass the way that we do, and each and every piece that leaves our studio is made individually by our own hands.
Sometimes we get visitors who are astounded that we make everything from scratch, they just assume that we buy the materials in and put our own designs on them – but that’s just not how we do things.
Each item is unique and comes with all of its own tricks and techniques; a day can see James and I produce 45 hand crafted stem glasses together, but the bowls, for example, require a more detailed process - so each of us can only really produce two every hour or so. We work to a demanding scale, but nothing is ever rushed, some things just take time – that’s the beauty of them.
Are you from Kilkenny yourself, or did you move to the area in later life?
The studio that we work from every day is actually my family home, where I lived for the first 28 years of my life. I’m now married with three children, and my wife and I live in house that we built just up the road – so I’m always close to my roots.
It’s a real family business, and the kids are already talking about how they’re going to be glass blowers when they grow up; although one wants to do this alongside being a teacher and the other on the side of their veterinary degree – so we’ll see how it all pans out. Our youngest isn’t quite at the stage of sharing her career aspirations just yet… so we’ll have to wait and see if we have another aspiring glass blower in the family.
What’s your favourite thing about living and working in Ireland?
I think Ireland is quite a laidback place. The people here aren’t very uptight, and the general atmosphere seems to be much more relaxed when compared to other parts of the world. For me that’s the best part of working here – you get to go about your life surrounded by friendly and easy-going people.
Lastly, if there was one place in Ireland that you would recommend for our subscribers to visit – where would it be and why?
Can I pick two? Because I really can’t recommend my hometown of Kilkenny enough, you know? There’s so much to do and see here – with riverside walks, gorgeous forests, and plenty of outdoor activities. I could give you an itinerary off the top of my head and you’d be busy for a month!
Aside from that it’s a pretty incredible craft scene that we’ve got going on here, and there are so many creative and artistic people that work together to retain this part of Kilkenny’s heritage. The county was actually awarded the World Craft Council Crafts City and Region just this summer, an accolade that’s only ever been bestowed on four other areas in Europe – and we’re immensely proud of it. The application was put forward by the Made in Kilkenny group, a collection of craftspeople in the area which we are very much part of, and we’re thrilled that our preservation and innovation of craftmanship has been recognised in such a prestigious way.
Aside from Kilkenny, I would really recommend taking a trip up to Wicklow Mountains or County Kerry; I’ve been a mountain runner for about ten years and it’s an incredible way to appreciate the country (and get into shape while you’re at it!)
I have a good few friends that are into it as well and it’s just such good craic, so much more interesting than your average road running – which just bored me to be honest. We’re as much photographers as we are runners when we make our way through a mountain together – you see such amazing scenery that we’re always stopping for photo opportunities. It’s just so good to be out in nature – that’s where life really is.