BallintoyCauseway CoastNorthern IrelandBallintoy and the Causeway Coast with Andrea Spencer Glass Artist

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Jackie De Burca Today’s guest is Andrea Spencer, who makes beautiful works of art from glass to quote Andrea,

I find much of my inspiration in nature investigating natural forms that are either transformed into symbolic objects or abstracted to create images.

Thanks so much for joining us, Andrea


Andrea Spencer Hi. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Jackie De Burca It’s a pleasure to have you here. Now, let’s hop straight into the kind of work you do. Andrea, can you describe the two divergent paths of your work, please?

Andrea Spencer Yeah. Yeah, I can.

So for the past 16 years, I suppose my glass making practise has been made up of two fairly opposing disciplines.

On the one hand, I’ve been making commission public artworks, which are site-specific projects, and they’re mostly awarded through the open competition process, very large scale, very colourful works made in response to very specific, brief and designed to be integrated into the fabric of a building. In my case, mostly healthcare buildings. And they often take a team of people to complete the process.

So I would make parts of the work in my studio and then work with other fabricators and people to install them, which can involve cranes and all sorts.

My studio Sunset Andrea Spencer
My studio Sunset Andrea Spencer

And then, on the other hand, I make smaller autonomous works for gallery and exhibition.

And these pieces are mostly concept-led, installation-based works, which have a lot of small scale detail and are usually limited in colour. I make this work on my own in my studio and I use a technique called flameworking, which involves melting and shaping glass using an extremely hot bench torch. And it’s a very solitary process.

So I tend to work intuitively with this work and figure things out. And what the next step is as I go along. And this work has a very delicate and ephemeral quality about it. And sometimes it’s made to only exist for the duration of the show. And with this, I’m interested in pushing the material to the extreme and utilising the properties which are unique to the material glass, such as transparency, fluidity and fragility.

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Andrea Spencer But there is a common thread that runs through both of those parts. And that’s that I always refer to nature and the natural world for my inspiration and concepts.

Jackie De Burca OK, so your studio is in a very idyllic place, Ballintoy, which some people probably know because of Game of Thrones. Can you describe this area? Do you also live there, Andrea?

Ballintoy harbour Pink Moon Andrea Spencer
Ballintoy harbour Pink Moon Andrea Spencer

Andrea Spencer Yes, I do live. I do live. We’re slightly inland of Ballintoy. So, yeah, I do live there as well. And I’m very lucky in that I have the studio in the back of the house.The area is made popular by the Game of Thrones, which is very good for the industry, tourism industry. But there’s also a lot of amazing historical sites around the area. About four years ago, my husband and I bought this property, which is an old farmhouse, and it was surrounded by open green fields and a lot of farming community but we have incredible access to the North Antrim coastline.

So within just a couple of miles, I can be down on some of the amazing attractions of the Antrim coast.

We have about an acre of land which we’ve been cultivating and growing and building on and are connected to the house.

Also a series of outbuildings in which we’ve built our studios. So it’s an incredible location.

My studio Snow Andrea Spencer
My studio Snow Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca It sounds absolutely fantastic. So it must be I hate to use the word, but it must be very inspirational?

Andrea Spencer

It is very inspiring and I’ve always been very drawn to spending time in the natural world, especially as an immersive experience, being completely surrounded by nature or being in the water or standing on a precipice or steeped in the changing light, we get an incredible quality of light here that I think is due to the nature of being so close to the coast.

So, yeah, and I suppose also my location, which is, you know, on the tip of the rugged Antrim coast.

It allows me to feed my habit of going out into nature and studying and collecting aspects which I bring back to the studio. I take a lot of walks on the coastline and observe my surroundings, and then I bring those back – those observations back into the studio to translate them into material.

Benefield Spencer Glass Studio Artisant Portrait
Benefield Spencer Glass Studio Artisant Portrait

Jackie De Burca OK, so the funny thing is you sound absolutely merged with that environment, but you weren’t born there, Andrea. Where were you born and when?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, I was born in Hertfordshire in 1971. I was born in a small village in Hertfordshire. And that’s where I grew up. Yes. So in small village connected by a series of other small villages.

Jackie De Burca OK, so that’s quite a different landscape, I don’t know Hertordshire intimately, but I know roughly how the landscape would be. That’s quite a different landscape. How did that environment affect you as a girl growing up?

Andrea Spencer Yes. Growing up, I spent a huge amount of time surrounded by nature, but a different type of nature to being here on the coast . At a very early age. I was roaming freely in the woods, in the fields and working with animals: Our village and that area of Hertfordshire would be particularly woodsy! So. Yes. Spent a lot of time walking dogs and working with horses and building camps and climbing up trees. So, yeah, as a young adult, I guess I was busting to get away. But I’ve always been really grateful, looking back that my formative years were spent in a rural environment. And I think it gave me a lot of independence and self-reliance and was a very freeing way to grow up.

Stones and Sea Campion Andrea Spencer
Stones and Sea Campion Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca Definitely. It’s interesting that you’re that you were working with horses. That’s quite a foundation also, isn’t it?

Andrea Spencer It was amazing because I had a very fortunate opportunity, fortunate for me and also fortunate my parents because there was in our village, it was literally one shop and one pub and one school. And that’s really all there was to it. But in the village shop, there’s a little advert for somebody to work with horses. So I worked for this woman who had six little ponies and they were show ponies, but they were all-rounder ponies as well.

So from about the age of 11, I was off down there all the time and riding the horses around the woods and taking care of these animals. And then in return for the work that I did, she then took me to the shows and to pony clubs and things like that, which would have cost my parents quite a bit of money. So it was nice because there was no money exchanged in it. It was just this sort of an exchange, I suppose, of work for experience. And it’s just such a lucky situation.

Jackie De Burca That’s wonderful.

Do you think, looking back, do you think that those maybe, maybe quite therapeutic because horses are now used in therapy in some places?

Andrea Spencer

Yes, actually, I suppose, you know, I hadn’t really connected with that because I sort of work in that area a little bit myself now with people, not animals. But, yeah, definitely very therapeutic, I think forming a bond, you know, I mean, I was responsible for, at the time, six, maybe more sometimes horses and ponies of different characters and two of them very closely connected that. Yes. Definitely therapeutic. And I think. I can really picture, you know, just riding along all the bridal paths and in the woods and just that sort of freedom and independence, I think is very therapeutic as well.

Benefield Spencer Glass production Round Vase
Benefield Spencer Glass production Round Vase

Jackie De Burca I imagine just thinking about it because I have a horse myself. That’s why I have a particular interest in that. I imagine as such a young person, Andrea, getting to explore nature on horseback and through the woods for sure, that must have engrained the amazing bond you have today (with nature)?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, I definitely think so. I mean, when I talked to my Mum and Dad about I mean, and even, you know, my sister has children.

I don’t have any children, but my brother and my sister both have children. And my parents. We talk about the fact that you know, I would be down even earlier than the age of eleven, you know, probably the age of nine. I would be down walking through the woods at like five, six in the morning, you know, and then going down and mucking out the horses before school. And, you know, it’s just that sort of thing. Probably you wouldn’t maybe allow that to happen now for your kids because it’s a different world that we live in. But I was just really so carefree and felt very safe. You know, I never I think that’s the thing. I feel like out of very safe upbringing, I was very fortunate.

Jackie De Burca It sounds absolutely gorgeous. Did you go off on any day trips with your parents? Because you’ve mentioned you were going off to the shows.

Were there any other special places that you went to?

Studio Atmosphere Andrea Spencer
Studio Atmosphere Andrea Spencer

Andrea Spencer Yeah, I think as well.

Our family holidays when we were young kids, I have an older sister and an older brother. So when we were all young, before my brother was 16 and stopped coming away with us. Our family holidays would have been to the likes of the Peak District in England and in caravanning holidays and walking, you know, so that’s what we did for our Easter holidays and so many family photos of like all huddled behind a stone wall in our waterproofs eating sandwiches.

But one of those what one we did return a few times back to a site that was on a farm, and it was just a field and a farm. And I just remember being quite young, you know, maybe about six or seven and just following the farmer around and helping. He would then let me help him feed the calves. And one time he woke us up in the middle of the night to go and see a calf being born. And I can’t help but think that definitely kickstarted my fascination with the natural world and life cycles and nature.

Jackie De Burca Yeah, I can understand that. Now, the child’s with all of those fabulous influences, do you remember a stage where you were making art of any particular type – more so than the average child does?

Andrea Spencer I think I do remember, you know, just incessantly drawing, you know, a lot of drawing all the time.

And I think even a bit earlier than that, I think I used to sort of spend a lot of time in my Dad’s sheds, you know, hammering things to bludgeoning things together, which were always like little boxes.

And then I would put them up trees, you know, and have them. I think they were kind of like secret, you know, it’s sort of like a secrecy thing, you know? And stashing little things in them.

And then also, I remember thinking about one particular tree where I had some of these little boxes installed and just finding, you know, baby birds that must’ve fallen out the nest and being too young really to realise. But I sort of had it. And then, you know, chopping up worms and trying to feed it, to keep it alive and then just being so devastated when it died and not really realising why. And I don’t know if that’s necessarily making art. But when I look back on it now and look at the way sometimes I work of collecting things and grouping things together and just creating these kind of assemblages, I think maybe that relates to it somehow.

Broken Baby Bird Andrea Spencer
Broken Baby Bird Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca I mean, as soon as you were talking about that, I see that reflected in your work from what I’ve seen in my research before today.

Andrea Spencer

Yeah, most definitely I do. I do still have a massive fascination with birds. And yeah, I yeah, for a long time I was fascinated by dead birds just in the sheer fact that you could get so close to these creatures and have a look at them, you know, whereas when they’re alive they’re not so easy to see.

But living here where we do now, we have our outbuildings.

And because before we bought the property, I had been more or less abandoned for quite a long time and really have been overtaken by swallows, which is an absolute delight. Every year we wait for them to come back and we’ve some out there now that are about to fledge a second set this year, which is surprising.

Because it seems late, but it’s just a delight to see, you know, to hear them and see their little beaks poking up. And now it’s like I’m more interested in keeping them alive and letting them go on their way, because we’ve got a couple of cats and one of them is very active. So much so. It’s quite interesting how things have changed. I’m more interested in the living variety now than the dead variety.

Jackie De Burca They’re meant to be lucky as well. The fact that they return to your place.

Edge of Property Trees Andrea Spencer
Edge of Property Trees Andrea Spencer

Andrea Spencer I loved that idea. And I love the idea that they apparently do return to the same nest in which they were born. Yeah. Last year was devastating. Well, one year we had five families, which was just amazing. I think that was before we actually had the work on the house completed. And then last year, we only had one family. And actually, we headed off for a period of time just as they were starting to nest. And then when we came back, we found that one of them had died. And then the five eggs in the nest were unhatched. And it was just devastating because we, you know, to think that they’ve come all this way and they’ve not sort of completed the journey, really.

Jackie De Burca I understand from you know, we’re also in the country, so we have a lot of the same experiences, I think. Am now a big, huge contrast in your life. Andrea was when you went to study in Edinburgh, so a massive contrast to your country life beforehand. What kind of an impact did the city on your time studying have on you?

Andrea Spencer I think I just feel when I look back of that now, I mean, I absolutely loved Edinburgh and I chose to go to Edinburgh for very shallow reasons because I had actually been accepted into college in Swansea and also in London, in the Chelsea.

And I chose Edinburgh because at the time I just really wanted to get quite far away. Not in an awful sinister way, but I just think I was ready for adventure and. And also, you know, I just loved the journey up there and in the city, as you say, such a contrast from a rural village.

But I was only really 18. I was only there for at 19, maybe 19. To 22.

And I think just the vibrancy of student life was what I really enjoyed. I did take a few day trips or overnight trips out to some of the Scottish islands. But I didn’t do a huge amount of immersing myself in nature in those periods. [00:15:35]But if I’ve lost my thread. Oh, I know what I was going to say. That and [5.3s] what I realised now, looking back, was my choice of going to Edinburgh as an art college for glass. It was a very broad programme. And so it introduced you to all aspects of glass making. But when I went there, I was really only interested in stained glass. I didn’t I wasn’t really aware of all the other aspects, such as glass blowing and kiln forming. And the other two colleges I had applied to would have been much more stained glass focused. So now, looking back, you know, I think it gave it was another great opportunity, which opened up a whole range of experiences of glass to me that I might not have discovered otherwise or might have taken me longer to have discovered if I’d gone to the other colleges.

Causewaystone Bleached Seaweed Andrea Spencer
Causewaystone Bleached Seaweed Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca OK, so it was obviously a great choice. Now, in 1993, Andrea, you graduated with a degree in Architectural Glass and then a week later you moved to Belfast. Now that’s a decision given that The Troubles were still an issue at that time, that might have been considered a bit unusual by some people. Why did you move to Belfast at that time?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, I mean, I think that what had happened is in the year before I finished to Edinburgh, I had come over to Dublin actually for a summer, and I had work there. I had some friends that had a connection back to England. But their family were based in Dublin and they offered me summer work job. And I went to Dublin and I just absolutely fell in love with the place. I mean, having already moved from Scotland, I had discovered a new spirit of person in Scotland compared to in England. And then going to Dublin, I was just was blown away by the spirit of the people there. So I think that was my initial attraction was after I finished in Edinburgh, I didn’t really want to return to England.

And I thought, you know, I’ll just go over to Ireland, really. I had a connection in Belfast, which is how I ended up in Belfast. So that was really the reason why I moved there. OK. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca And whereabouts in Dublin were you? I’m just curious because that’s where I’m from.

Andrea Spencer Yeah, I lived in Dublin three times since I left Edinburgh But the first summer I was there, I was living on Waterloo Road, which was avery great location. I was working in a nightclub called The Night Train.

It was in a pub that was called Howl at the Moon.

Jackie De Burca Yes, of course, I knew the name.

Working Close Up Andrea Spencer
Working Close Up Andrea Spencer

Andrea Spencer What an amazing experience and such fun, you know.

And then when I moved over to Belfast after Edinburgh, I was in Belfast for a few months. And then I tried again to live in Dublin, but it was just very different. There wasn’t I wasn’t getting the same kind of work and I didn’t quite get a toehold. So I pinged back to Belfast again.

And then shortly after that, maybe about nine months later, I moved down again to Dublin and I lived in Terenure and I worked for the Irish Pub Company for nine months. And then I finally moved back to Belfast and just decided I’m always moving back to Belfast. I feel much more comfortable here. I think this is where I’m going to stay.

And then that’s where I am now. Yeah, well, not far away.

Jackie De Burca Belfast in this first series of Creative Places and Faces. We’ve interviewed a couple of people from Belfast. And we’ve had interesting sort of feedback, you know, regarding it as an environment. Did you find it inspirational in some ways or not?

Andrea Spencer [00:19:32]I did. [0.2s] [00:19:33]Do you know, what I think really shocked me was the people, the warmth and the generosity of spirit of people and how they embraced me. If I’m honest with you, a cause. I was nervous about the idea of moving to Belfast because I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know anything about The Troubles. And I just actually assumed that being English, I wouldn’t be very welcome here. But actually, it was really was the opposite. And people are incredibly friendly. And at that time, I guess, you know, I’m talking about sort of 93, 94, when I first moved over, there wasn’t really very much happening here in the way of glass. So I wasn’t working in glass at all. And I started out actually just doing pavement drawing. So I would just sort of set up on the streets in Belfast and just start, you know, drawing on canvas and the people that came by, which were just so pleased and welcoming and just kind of a bit astounded, that having moved over here, you know, rather than people moving away. And they were very welcoming. So I think that was very inspiring to me and the spirit of the people and the culture. And I also at that time, I met somebody who took me out and about and really just sort of that idea of just taking off into the country and camping out in nature and lighting fires to cook on, swimming in the sea and then exploring the diversity of the coastlines of Ireland, but then also the culture that goes with it in the pubs and the, you know, traditional music and things like that. [103.2s] [00:21:16]And I think that’s really what I was so passionate about in the early stages of living here. And that kept me here. I just really loved the whole culture of Northern Ireland. [11.3s]

Glass Blossom Andrea Spencer
Glass Blossom Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca That’s understandable, I think. So even though, of course, at the beginning, it sounded amazing what you were doing.

But it wasn’t what you planned to do when you’re in university as the peace process started to come about that obviously brought some significant changes in the infrastructure. And in 2003, you were awarded your first public art commission. Can you tell us about that?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, I think 2003 for me was a time when kind of all the planets aligned all at once. I mean, I’ve been living in Belfast for 10 years by then, and as we talked about, I hadn’t been working in glass at all. And I was really wanting to find a way to get back into it. I’d been working very commercially and had got quite disheartened with that. And it’s a long story, but I’ll try and keep it short. At that time then I had an opportunity to I got a post to work with our arts and health organisation. And that set me up in Belfast City Hospital as a two-day post. And along with that also gave me access to a studio. So for the first time in all those years, I was able to actually have somewhere where I could work and I was working in a different way and connected to a community of artists. And then through that post, I got the opportunity to do a public artwork for that hospital.

And I applied then for an Arts Council Award to support that and fund it.

So that was another thing connecting to the Arts Council. And then the third thing that happened was through getting the opportunity to create that commission, I was able to apply for a glass-making residency, which was over in Scotland.

And so that was the first opportunity I had to go and get my hands on the facilities that are required to make glass because it’s quite an intensive resource material to work in. So those three things combined really sort of came together as a starting point for me. And that first commission then installed – it was eventually about 2005 when it was installed, but it gave me an entrance into that world of public art commissions.

Front of house view snow Andrea Spencer
Front of house view snow Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca So then from around that time, 2004, 2005 until 2018, you were working one or even more commissions per year?

And of course, it’s probably a very difficult choice, but is there one of those that you feel is most representative of you and your relationship with the life and environment of Northern Ireland?

Andrea Spencer Well, I suppose the work that I do for the public art commissions is always inspired by nature, it’s not necessarily about the place of Northern Ireland so much.

And that work is also I always see it as a kind of a meeting between it’s almost a bridge, really, between my own autonomous work and a work for specific environment.

So but I suppose if I think about it that way, one commission that I do think about a lot is the one I did. I actually did it as a collaboration with my husband, Scott. And it was for the Cancer Centre of Northern Ireland, which is in Belfast. It’s on the Belfast City Hospital site. And what we made was a group – it was based on a group of starlings. So I suppose one of the things that you see in Belfast, especially as the seasons turn from autumn to winter, is the starlings that come and flock to the bridges.

So the concept for that sculpture was that the idea of this was the cancer centre. So people from all over the country of Northern Ireland would be coming up to Belfast for the treatment there. And one thing that would be familiar to them and would maybe connect them were the flocks of starlings. So I think that’s one that I associate very much with place and also quite representative of some of the qualities that I love about glass using hand blown glass and just the colours in it.

Jackie De Burca That sounds very beautiful and I think very poignant in that particular setting. Obviously, as you’ve described it. You made an absolutely superb video that you sent to me quite recently. [00:26:16]We’re linking that below the transcript here for the podcast. [2.8s] It made me wonder how important being close to the coast is for your creativity. And also a bit – I found myself a little bit intrigued about your special relationship with Seaweed?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, well, it is important, I think, for me to be close to the coast even after before I moved to the coast. I came a little bit halfway and moved to Randallstown and lived there for a while.

And even when I was living there, I would drive up to the coast as often as I could and to spend time. But now being, you know, so close to it, it’s definitely. I’m very lucky. I spend a lot time now. I monitor the tides quite a bit. The levels of the tides. And I’m interested in returning to one particular place and seeing how it is in the different at different times and different tides and different winds, just the conditions.

And so one of the places, in particular, I go to at low tide as it goes out just exposes all of the seaweed and it’s just fascinating to look at all the different types and the fact that, you know, it’s exposed for this period of time and it’s all it’s still alive and growing. And when the water comes back in again, it goes into this completely different state of fluidity – flowing underneath the water- The seaweed element of it.

Originally, I guess the glasswork that I’m known for the best is a series of what I did.

It’s based on the Mermaid’s Purse.

Mermaid's Purse Glass Seaweed Andrea Spencer
Mermaid’s Purse Glass Seaweed Andrea Spencer

I don’t know if you know much about that, but it kind of looks like seaweed and you find it washed up on the beaches. But what it actually is is the egg sac of a fish from the shark family. So the cat shark or it’s also known as the dog fish, which is a bit confusing. But, sir. So that’s something that’s sort of I’ve worked with for a long time.

And that has led me then into looking at seaweed, seaweed as well, because those egg sacs and once the fish expels it from its body and then it’s fertilised outside of the fish and then the egg sac embeds itself on the seafloor. But it entwines with the seaweed, which camouflages it and protects it while the fish is growing inside of that sac. So the sac provides everything that the little fish needs to survive the yolks inside it feeds off that and then it generates its own oxygen within the exact by placing its tail in each of the corners of the eggs. That too. To engage in exchange of oxygen from the outside environment to the inside environment. And then after the fish has come out of that, it’s washed up on the beach and discarded. So that’s it. There’s a lot of themes in there that I’ve been working with for a long time. The sort of purpose and mobility and mortality. Survival. And that’s sort of where the fascination started with the. Looking at the structure. Amazing complex structures in nature that designed and designed so cleverly to survive, you know, in the natural world. And I look then a lot of those structures that we also find a lot of similar structures in nature we find inside our own bodies.

So that’s something that I look at a lot as well. The relationship between the structures in nature and the structures in our own bodies.

Jackie De Burca Interesting. Very interesting, so I was told in the very early days of owning my first horse that you choose a horse that mirrors you. So you’re talking about mirroring in a sense, aren’t you?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, absolutely. Mirroring. I definitely see a connection with the Mermaid’s Purses. I, I definitely see a connection to the human form there. Even something about their appearance as well makes me sort of relate to it. And I come back to them time. I mean, I’ve worked with them very intensely for a period of four or five years.

And then I sort of moved away from a bit. And I come back from time and time again. And I think of it a little bit like life drawing. When you’re at art college, you do life drawing study of the human figure and you never seem to get tired of it, trying to capture that essence, you know, of life and truth of form and expression. And I sort of feel like there’s something in that that I do with the Mermaid’s Purses and connecting them to elements of nature to just try and express different ideas about human condition.

Mermaids purse glass
Mermaids purse glass

Jackie De Burca Fascinating, so it’s probably, again, a different question, but from your autonomous sculptures, Andrea, is there one in particular that reflects these type of bonds that you’ve discussed?

Andrea Spencer I think, yeah, I made a piece.

I think it was in about 2013 and I called it Collection. And if you do go to my website, I think it’s actually on the opening page of it.

And it was sort of an accumulation of my studying of the form of the Mermaid’s Purse and learning these different techniques to put texture and colour into the surface of the glass. And also then embedding things in, encapsulating things within the content of the Mermaids Purses. And I sort of brought those all together in one piece. And I think that for me, I would say is the piece that I feel reflects a special bond to that to that form and my interests in glass.

Andrea Spencer Glass Collection Blakewell House
Andrea Spencer Glass Collection Blakewell House

Jackie De Burca OK, fantastic. Now, we’re in September of 2020 because, of course, people could listen to this podcast at any stage in the future. We’ve been through probably the weirdest year for most people’s lives. We’ve been through the experience of Lockdown. How has that been for you as a creative person in the North of Ireland?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, I mean, it’s been interesting because it’s very conflicting. I mean, initially when Lockdown started in March – March the 19th. I was sort of waiting to see if Scott, who was out in the States at the time, was going to make it back before lockdown happened. So I managed to scoop him up. We got back here and then more or less.

I don’t know, maybe four or five days later, we were all in lockdown. And for us, I think it is not hugely different because we are very self-sufficient. We’re very rural and remote and very fortunate to have our studios know in the back of our house.

So from that way, just the slowing of the pace of life and the access to nature, you know, it felt like a blessing. So from that point of view, that was good. But it was a strange mix of emotions to have this slowing down the pace of life. At the same time, working in the studio and listening to the news of how the virus is impacting people around the world. And then in early April, I learnt that a friend of mine – it was actually the friend that I was talking about earlier, about when I first moved over to Dublin, that they set me up with work.

And I heard then that her father was in hospital dying of COVID and she is now living in England.

And so that really struck with me, you know, that she was unable to to get back over to Dublin to see him. Really difficult. I could relate to it a lot, having moved away from home myself, from what it’s like, what that feels like. And then at that time, all the trees were sort of blossoming. And this really struck me, the fleeting nature of the blossom that would fall from the trees and that people weren’t even going to be able to get to see it because we were all to be locked down in our homes, not really allowed to go out and experience it. And then I was in my studio working with a process that relied on oxygen to make my work.

It just seemed a lot of connections there that I found. I got very interested in the sort of symbolism of the blossom is something that relates to that experience. My friend’s experience and the COVID pandemic.

Benefield Spencer Glass Studio Apple Blossom House
Benefield Spencer Glass Studio Apple Blossom House

Jackie De Burca You made a particular piece of art coming out of that.

Andrea Spencer I did, that’s right. Because well, I have a sort of statement about that piece that relates.

Jackie De Burca Would you like to read it?

Andrea Spencer I could do. Because it probably explains it quite well. So I have made this piece that went into the show, The Croft NI show that they had put on that.

It’s called Unlocked. And it was artists responding to the lockdown period. So my statement goes like this.

When lockdown was first introduced in Northern Ireland at the end of March 2020, it saw a raft of restrictions on everyday life. And for my practice, this meant an immediate cessation to the supply of compressed bottled oxygen. The fuel source essential to operating the bench torch that I use to create my flamework glass pieces. And it seemed an uncanny metaphor for what was happening around the world. People with severe symptoms of coronavirus unable to breathe, literally gasping for breath. The news of which I’d absorbed through the radio in my studio as the number of cases increases and the last of my bottled oxygen ran out.

A few days before lockdown was enforced, I was very fortunate to be able to borrow equipment from the Flowerfield Arts Centre and I was lent an oxygen concentrator, which was reconditioned from its previous use in the medical fields and is specially modified to run my glass making bench torch. And so the loan of this oxygen concentrator substituted my dependence on purchasing the compressed bottled oxygen and allow me to sustain the level of practice throughout the height of the lockdown period. So powered then by the oxygen concentrator, which was plugged in the corner of my studio that makes a sound almost like, I suppose, somebody who’s on a ventilator breathing away in the corner. I was able to create the piece then that was inspired by my immediate environment on the Antrim Coast.

So I was taking walks daily and collecting pieces of nature that were happening at that time. The sea pinks were all coming out and the sea campion. And so I brought those back to the studio and created this circular piece that had those pieces of nature encapsulated within it.

Detail Sea Campion Andrea Spencer
Detail Sea Campion Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca OK, it’s amazing and very powerful what you’ve just read, Andrea.

You chose the circular shape on purpose. You felt a connection through what was happening with oxygen to people around the world. Or am I right in that direction?

Andrea Spencer You are- I mean, it wasn’t the first time I had made a piece like that. I called those pieces- are almost like garlands. And I had just recently started to make those. But I think that particular one, there was a couple of ideas. The circular motif really seemed to fit in well because I was returning to the same place every day.

I discovered this sort of recently, fairly recently discovered this walk that takes me down to Larrybane – from Ballintoy Harbour down to Larrybane, which is my new favourite place in the world. And so returning there every day, observing that environment, watching the nature as it changed it over- over a period of time. But it also- I think I was really thinking about my whole journey of moving over here from England to Islands or Northern Ireland and that was sort of instigated by this- by my friend who had moved from Dublin to my small village and then moving over here and their family taking me in.

And it just, you know- it- that same- then her father, who was so ill. And it just seemed like the whole thing- and the generosity of being lent- the oxygen concentrator, it just this whole thing’s in return.

You know, things were feeding back into this sort of circular relationship, I think. I think that’s how it came together for me.

Larrybane Andrea Spencer
Larrybane Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca Okay, now I find it interesting, Andrea, that you chose today for our interview because this day next week, you’re going to be part of a show opening in Texas called Ground Zero 360. And that’s part of a larger project, which is in response to 9/11. Naturally enough, next year it’s going to be the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Can you tell us a bit about the show and your involvement, Andrea?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, actually, t’s not- it’s not this time next week it’s this time next year. Yeah, no sorry. I might not have communicated my information very well to you there, but-

Yeah. So in 2011, an artist, Nicola McClean, she created an exhibition called Ground Zero 360, and it was to honour victims and their families of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. And so it’s a mostly it’s been touring then since then.

So that’s, what, nearly- that’s nine years or so it’s been. It’s been- it was shown in the Collins Barracks in Dublin and it’s been shown in other venues in the States. And in 2021, there’ll be a new part to the exhibition that will celebrate the- or commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

And twenty-five artists have been invited to participate, and I’m one of those artists. So next year, in 2021, there’ll be an official launch. Either the George- at the George H.W. Bush Library in Texas so-

So- Yes. So I’ve been asked to create a piece that sort of in response to my memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And I think- I haven’t made the piece yet, but I’m gonna get started pretty soon because it is to be ready for December.

But one of the things I think I’m thinking about in particular is actually just the parallels that I was seeing with the CoVid pandemic and the blossom and thinking about those images of- after the terrorist attacks in New York, of all the dust settling on the city. And something that- I’m not sure what way I’m going to go with it yet, but I’m thinking something about those little flower blossoms that I was creating back in April and somehow maybe making a piece that relates that to the dust and in particular, there was one lady that was known as the Dust Lady, and there’s an amazing image of her just after she was brought out of the buildings covered in dust. So they’re the sort of things I’m thinking about at the moment. And so then that will be ready for the show next year.

Jackie De Burca Okay. And I’ve no doubt that when you start to work on that, it’s going to come together very beautifully.

Andrea Spencer I’ve heard that, you really have to trust in that creative process.

It’s always a little bit daunting. You know, you don’t- I don’t necessarily always know exactly what it is I’m going to make. And there might be a rough idea.

And sometimes it takes quite a bit of thrashing out, especially to finish something. But, yeah, I think you have to trust in the creative process.

Ballintoy Harbour Sunset Andrea Spencer
Ballintoy Harbour Sunset Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca Definitely. Definitely. Now, going back to the beautiful environment where you are in Ballintoy. If you had a friend visiting, you know somebody not coming from Ireland, somebody from abroad- where would be the favourite place for that friend to stay?

Andrea Spencer My favourite place of all time at the moment is Larrybane.

Larrybane swim Andrea Spencer
Larrybane swim Andrea Spencer

I’ve been obsessed with it now for well over a year. It’s very close to me. It’s literally about two miles away. And Larrybane at one time was a quarry. And I could spend all day there. I go on- I go on further than the quarry down to the coastline, and that’s where I took a lot of that footage from the film that you mentioned. It’s very rocky and not many people go down there. So I don’t really want to tell too many people about it. But it’s just an amazing, amazing place. It’s the power of the place. I’ve been just this week actually in September. But I’ve been- taken some swims down there. And it’s just incredible when you’re in the water and you’re looking back at this very rocky coastline, it’s just- it could be any period of time, you know, there’s very little sort of man-made influences when you’re down there. So that’s my favourite place.

Jackie De Burca Okay, and what about for accommodation, would you have somewhere that- apart from your own house, obviously somewhere that you might?

Andrea Spencer You know what, I just found out about this place called The Outbox. And I haven’t stayed in it. It’s very close to me. I’d like to stay in it, but I found out about it on Instagram. And it’s a 1968 Bedford TK Horse Lorry that’s been lovingly converted into a guest accommodation for two adults. So it’s through AirBnB. And it’s funny because I suddenly realise I kept looking and thinking how gorgeous is that? But it reminded me exactly of the horsebox lorry that I used to be driven around in when I was working with the ponies.

It’s a very old wooden one with the- with the cab. And they’ve set it on private farmlands on the Antrim coast, so it’s very close then to all of the main coastline attractions and apparently, it’s on a very elevated site so you get amazing views. And the interior then to looking at the photos on Instagram has just been really well done. Really nicely done. Very cosy inside with a wood-fired AGA or stove that I think you can cook on and that heats it. And it’s just such an amazing, quirky, interesting place. I think that would definitely be a place to stay.

Jackie De Burca That sounds absolutely amazing. And, you know, very much in tune with the- with the surroundings by the (inaudible – 00:46:50), no?

Andrea Spencer Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m seeing that, you know- I mean, I’ve been coming up to this coastline ever since I moved here, which is over 20 years, but I’ve only lived here for five years. But in that period, I’m seeing so many really interesting places developing to stay and to eat that I just really- just making it an amazing place to visit.

Jackie De Burca Okay, so any favourites of those so far that you would bring your guests to?

Andrea Spencer Do you mean sights or sights to visit?

Jackie De Burca Sites to visit and then where would you go for a bite to eat or a drink also afterwards?

Andrea Spencer Well, sights to visit- I mean, you can’t really beat the Giant’s Causeway.

Causeway Cliff Sunset Andrea Spencer
Causeway Cliff Sunset Andrea Spencer

It is amazing. I mean, it’s obviously very popular, it’s very busy. So it’s you know, it’s a bit of a double edge because you can’t really get it splendidly to yourself. Although one year there was probably about, I don’t know- fifteen years ago, I did actually manage to go there at midnight for Full Moon, which was amazing because it is actually- the Giant’s Causeway is actually part of a coastal path. So, you know, you can access it outside, you know, not outside visitor centre hours. But that’s the sort of, you know, obviously the most well-known place. But my other favourite place is Murlough Bay, which is just as you’re leaving Ballycastle on the coastal routes to- towards Cushendall. Murlough Bay is just along there. It’s an incredible, incredible sight. It’s really rich in history. I’m not very good on my history, but I have taken a guided walk there.

I went on a guided walk one time and the guide there explained about all the history of the clans that lived on that land and just- it connected to Rathlin Island and so there’s definitely a very powerful energy about the place as well, I think.

So that’s a favourite place of mine as well.

Jackie De Burca Okay. And what about restaurants, bars, somewhere to just relax after a good day out?

Andrea Spencer I got new places that I like. For restaurants, I think if I was sort of going out for a treat, I really like Harry’s Shack. It’s a great place. It’s on the Strand at Portstewart. So as you get down onto the Strand, it’s just there. So it’s you know, it’s like being on a beach hut but it’s not- it’s, you know, it’s quiet. It’s not very formal, terribly formal, but it’s you know, it’s good- good quality food. So it’s a great place. But then something that’s a bit more quirky and sort of what I was talking about earlier, just this idea of living in this really rural place, but having these amazing quality experiences.

Just round the corner from us is Broughgammon Goat Farm, which is a family run business. And they raise goats and they have got a small sort of cafe that’s open. It’s- I think it’s open now and you’d need to double-check, but I think it’s open on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

And it’s really nicely done. Really nicely done inside. And it’s just so- such a novelty to have something like that on your doorstep. I often take people when they come to visit me, I take them around there and you can get a billy burger and they do amazing cakes as well. And they also do a lot of- they do tours of their farmlands and they also do experiences such as foraging for food so I think it’s a great place. Yeah.

Murlough Bay Cliff walk Andrea Spencer
Murlough Bay Cliff walk Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca That sounds amazing. That’s fantastic. What about a good bar to listen to a bit of maybe you mentioned earlier on, the music-you love the music and the culture there.

Andrea Spencer Yeah. I think- I mean, since we’ve moved here, we’ve become we’ve become very reclusive. We don’t venture as much.

But if I do go into Ballycastle- there’s a bar that’s known as Wee Tom’s. It’s also called the House of O’Donnell. And it’s great for atmosphere and traditional music. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t open until later. And it doesn’t- it’s very- it doesn’t do food, it just really- you’re there for the- you know, the trap music. It’s a great place. And then if it’s a bit of glamour, which occasionally, I like a little bit of glamour. I like the Salt House Hotel Bar, which is fairly recently opened. It’s a hotel and a spa as well and a restaurant. I’ve only really been to the bar part of it, but they have amazing gin cocktails. And you sit at this bar and you look out of this giant picture window which has a view that goes right down the glen and looks out across Ballycastle Beach and across the water. So that’s incredible.

Jackie De Burca That sounds amazing. Now, Andrea, I know you mentioned your husband a couple of times on our chat today. Yourself and your husband, you have a studio together. It’s also- you have a web site together, and so it’s also somewhere that it’s possible for our audience to go and take a look and- and buy some of the work that yourself and your husband do.

Andrea Spencer We have- we have our web site, which is under the name of Benefield Spencer Glass, and we make a range of tablewares. And so Scott is a glass blower and has been for over 30 years. And he’s particularly interested in Venetian techniques. And so he makes a range of tablewares that are very functional and practical but also very beautiful. So we worked together on that and we’d done- we’re not really open to the public as such. Once the CoVid is behind us, which hopefully is soon- we’ll go back to, we do have a couple of open studios, maybe a couple of times a year.

We advertise where we throw open the doors and the public can come down and we do demonstrations so people can see glass blowing and flame working and we- and sometimes we have stuff available for sale then. But what’s been most exciting is we’ve just launched our new exclusive online range at Benefield Spencer Glass Shop. So that’s- that’s the best place to go if you want to and take a look and see what we do. And you can purchase work there.

Benefield Spencer Glass - shop banner
Benefield Spencer Glass – shop banner

Jackie De Burca Okay, fantastic. So what we’ll do, the transcription of today’s interview, Andrea- we’ll also put that web site there so people can go along and have a look and hopefully buy some of your beautiful products.

Andrea Spencer That’s great. Thank you very much.

Jackie De Burca Okay, and any other news or anything else that you would like our audience to know about?

Andrea Spencer Well, I suppose the other thing that was- disappointing for me with the CoVid pandemic, I had to cancel- I had five workshops planned, which was something that I was just starting to do out of my studio. So running workshops where people could come and experience melting glass at the torch and doing some flame working. So I’m hoping, you know, next year- you know, when things- we start to learn how we go forward with CoVid, that I can- re-advertise those again and open those experiences for people.

So we will promote that as well through our- through our web site so people can keep an eye out for that if they’re interested in coming and having a go at flame working then I should have that up and running again soon.

Artisan Portrait Andrea Spencer
Artisan Portrait Andrea Spencer

Jackie De Burca Okay. Of course, that sounds absolutely amazing. Listen, Andrea, thank you so much for taking the time out today to join us. It was a pleasure having you.

Andrea Spencer Thank you, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

It’s great to sorta have the opportunity to look at our environment and say, you know, just take stock of how lucky we are to live in such an amazing location. So it’s been good for me, too.

Jackie De Burca It is. It is.

Okay. Well, thank you so much. So don’t forget to check out some of the other interviews in this series that include apart from Andrea today, also authors such as Malachi O’Doherty, Henry McDonald and other artists and creators including Gail Kelly, Helen Sharkey, Emma Thorpe and Anne Smith. And that’s it for today, folks. Thank you so much for listening.

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Jackie De Burca

Jackie De Burca is is a travel, arts and culture writer. The author of Salvador Dalí at Home, De Burca has spent much of her life in Spain since 2003. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, she is the creator of Travel Inspires: the authentic travel magazine by the people, for the people. She mentors aspiring writers around the world, who have the opportunity to showcase their work on Travel Inspires. De Burca feels an inspirational connection with the land in Spain, while maintaining her deeply rooted attachment to Irish landscapes, soil and of course, the Irish character.

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      Ballintoy and the Causeway Coast with Andrea Spencer Glass Artist

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