This week a chance encounter with a beautiful multi-coloured glass butterfly sent me off on an adventure to the west coast to the wonderful workshop of Liza Walker from Glass House Algarve.
After looking at her business card that had a picture of two glorious glass cats cuddling on top of a flower, as well as the countless other wonders on her Instagram and Facebook pages (@glasshousealgarve), I just had to find out more. Liza very kindly invited me around to her little farm just outside of Almádena (near Lagos) to see her workshop as well as meet somebody called ‘Ziggy the Piggy’.
The only thing she insisted on was that I come in the afternoon for a reason that soon became bright, beautiful and strikingly obvious. But we’ll get to that.
Walking into her garden I was greeted by ‘the gang’ of dogs. Luckily (and rather randomly), that day Liza’s husband Rick had just found an abandoned life-size clown statue and brought it home and put it in the garden. This meant that the dogs soon forgot about me and went off to see who on earth that jeering jester was?
I would say that this new feature to the garden could serve not only as a pretty decent scarecrow (I mean he certainly made me jump) as well as perhaps future inspiration for Liza - however, I later saw that she’s already done a glass version of 'The Joker'.
Liza Walker's Art
Liza Walker's Art
Follow what lights you up and you’ll light up the world
Liza has been in Portugal since 1994 when she drove down here from the south of England. She said she thinks people expected her to come back pretty soon but she fell so in love with the Algarve with all its vibrant colours and sunshine - that she’s still here.
Perhaps this love of colour and light is why she took so much to stained glass work. She confesses she’s completely hopeless at painting, but after taking a ‘glass class’ she realized this was her ‘thing’ and bought herself a glass starter kit and has been teaching herself ever since.
However, until recently, she has only had time to indulge this passion in the low season as the rest of the time she was always very busy with her catering business. But with the pandemic and all her events getting cancelled, Liza finally had time to really play and get creative - and the results are quite extraordinary.
Who’ll love Aladdin Sane?
The change of pace was strange for her at first and she confessed that being able to absorb and busy herself with her glass work (while listening to audiobooks and podcasts) has been her way of staying sane.
Of course, my meandering mind makes the connection from ‘staying sane’ to Aladdin Sane and tells me that this would be a good time to mention that her best sellers (besides butterflies) are Ziggy Stardusts.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Her workshop used to be their cisterna but it's been transformed into her workshop which has a wonderful ‘yurt-like’ feel about it.
It's also the reason that, if you remember, she wanted me to come after 2pm. You see, this is when the sun makes its way round to that side of the workshop and all that gorgeous Algarvian sunlight comes streaming in, like a funnel, through the only door.
This makes it the perfect time and place to experiment with her designs. I asked her how she decides what to make and she explained how ‘the glass tells her’. The sun shines differently through different pieces and when she gets the right combo it just becomes obvious what each piece wants to be.
So far, it’s told her that it wants to be a truly huge variety of things. Just for starters, there are all kinds of birds, bees, sunshine's and dragonflies but there’s also Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo (with their respective epic eyebrows and amusing moustaches) - and I even saw a glass version of the famous ‘The Scream’ painting.
Puzzling it all together
Liza took me through how she uses what's called the 'Louis Comfort Tiffany Method' (famous for his lampshades) to work her magic.
She draws a pattern, cuts out the shapes in glass, grinds them down and sticks copper foil around the edges. She then slots them into place and finally solders the whole thing together. It’s a bit like a puzzle - except she has to make the pieces herself.
If you would like to learn how to do this yourself, then you are in luck as Liza also teaches classes and you can come round the farm and she will happily show you what to do.
Uniting the crafters
Liza is now living the life of a quiet artist but we laughed about how her years of catering has made her a self-confessed organizer. She likes people and can’t help but try and arrange craft fairs whenever it’s possible. She tries to bring all the talented Algarvian artists out of the woodwork and has even made a Facebook page called Craft and Design Portugal where local craftspeople can come together to talk, share ideas and support each other.
Ziggy the Piggy of Happiness
As I was trying to get a picture of Liza holding her glasswork up at the door, I finally got to meet the famous Ziggy - an adorable little pot-bellied pig who Liza calls the “Pig of Happiness”. I can’t disagree. Liza has had him since just before Christmas and he’s just the cutest - and even has a heart patch on his side. Curious to know what was going on he came striding in and grunted to ask if we wanted to give him a cuddle (and, perhaps, a dried fig or two)?
To find out more about Liza and her work please visit glasshousealgarve.com.