A Glass Act

Meenakshi Salve
Natural glass has existed since the beginning of time, formed when rocks are melted by the likes of volcanic eruptions or lightning strikes and then cooling and rapidly solidifying. Stone-age man is believed to have used cutting tools made of naturally formed glass and the earliest man-made glass objects are thought to date back to around 3500 BC, with finds in Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia.

The Romans did much to spread glassmaking technology. With its conquests, trade relations, road building, and effective political and economical administration, the Roman Empire created conditions which saw glassworks across Western Europe and the Mediterranean flourish.

The Romans also introduced glass into their architecture, with the discovery of clear glass in Alexandria around AD 100. Cast glass windows began to appear in the most important buildings in Rome and the most luxurious villas of Herculaneum and Pompeii, although the quality at that time meant inhabitants were literally looking out at the world 'through a glass darkly'.

So glass has long been with us and has graced some of the world’s most beautiful works of art for centuries.

Recently, I met up with a modern exponent of glass art, Meenakshi Salve, at her London home to discuss the skills that have helped her produce some of the most beautiful, commercially available products of the new millennium.

Born and still primarily based in New Delhi, Meenakshi was originally educated as a textile designer but was fascinated by the medium of stained glass because of its colour and form. She soon found it to be a perfect outlet for her creative talents and pursued further studies in New York where she worked with a number of talented artists.

So it was after much success in her endeavours that she decided to start her own company as an umbrella to showcase her work, naming it Ame-de-Verre, which translated means “Soul of Glass”.

But was her art something she grew into or was something she was born with?

“Without a doubt I would say my talent is something that has always been with me. My love of colour is also a very influential part of my work.

“Working with stained glass by hand is a slow and meticulous process but I wanted to master it to as high a standard as possible. I have always believed that if you decide to go into anything you should do so with 100% commitment. The technique requires great patience and precision. Some of my creations can be made up of 1500 individual pieces of glass and each one has to be applied and leaded by hand. In this world of greater mass production, what I do is unique to each work. No two pieces are the same.

“Glass has a magnificent way of harnessing and channelling light. Introducing colour into the structure allows for a deeper experience of the entire process.

“I have always loved Tiffany. My work carries many similarities, although I would not want to be seen as a reproduction artist since there is enough of my own personality in what I do to still set me apart from anyone else.”

The glass itself comes from many different locations around the world and although Meenakshi’s operation is based entirely in New Delhi, the materials she uses come from countries as diverse as Japan, Germany, Italy and the US.

“The glass arrives in large sheets and as I begin to design my work, these sheets are cut into pieces of varying shapes and sizes before being adjoined with the lead. “

What impressed me about Meenakshi’s work was not just the attention to detail but the life that she brings to her creations. Leaves look like leaves; colours are so real and vibrant you want to reach out and touch them. No photos, fabulous though these are, can accurately convey the beauty of the work.

Unsurprisingly, creating some pieces can take Meenakshi up to a month to complete and this is sometimes with four people working on a single item at any one period.

“I am the chief designer but I have assembled and specifically trained a hard working and dedicated team of assistants to aid me with the growing demand. However, this doesn’t mean I am compromising on quality and I will never allow the operation to move away from the ' hands on ' individuality it currently enjoys.

“The diversity of my work reflects the diversity of human vision. I would like to think that no two people see the same thing when they look at one of my pieces but are instead taken to a place of colour and light that fires up some unique, personal experience.

"For me, the principles of Feng Shui and colour are very high on my agenda and everything I do is guided by these two things. Glass has always been associated with light. Windows bring sunshine into a darkened room; mirrors offer reflection and truth. Everything connected with the material is about clarity. Do spectacles not open up a new world for someone with poor eyesight?”

Meenakshi’s main designs are either light shades or glass panels although she is looking to diversify her range and explore the possibility of other options over the coming year.

“I’ve considered employing mythology such as star signs into some of my creations and I am considering an exclusive range with this theme that would comprise of 12 one - off pieces. I am also looking at candle holders and perhaps even food warmers for the future. In truth, I feel that my only limitation is the limit of my imagination.”

In late 2007 Meenakshi’s work was exhibited at an exclusive event at the Royal Academy of Art in London and the media and visitor reaction made the evening a resounding success.

“I would like the opportunity to display my work in other areas of the world and I feel that as my brand becomes more recognisable, I would like to host an event in America and possibly also somewhere in the Gulf.”

Meenakshi seems to carry with her a quiet confidence that speaks of experience, serenity and purpose. If she does come to tour the Gulf then I would recommend a viewing of her work because she is undoubtedly a lady on the rise.

If Meenakshi has anything to do with it 2008 could turn be the year of glass so watch this space!

For more information on Meenakshi and her products, check out her website at www.ame-de-verre.com.

George R Vaughan