Today’s interview is with artisan Ned Cantrell. He is an award-winning glass blower living in Denmark, where he shares a glassblowing laboratory with his wife.


We all know that a perfect artisan should be able to mix tradition and creativity, to realize the perfect handmade product. Today’s guest is the perfect example of how the use of traditional craftsmanship and inspiration from pop art can create a unique design.

We are talking about Ned Cantrell, an artisan residing in Denmark, who has become popular thanks to his work as a glassblower.

After graduating with honour from the Surrey institute of Art and Design in 1997, Ned started to make a name for himself in the glass artisan community, becoming an apprentice for masters of glassblowing such as Fynn Lynnggard and Tobias Møh.

In 2004 he settled down in Ebeltoft, Denmark, where he opened his own workshop: The Nyholm-Cantrell Glass, with his wife Karen Nyholm.

Ned’s pieces of work have appeared on several art exhibitions all over the world, like the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and the International Kanazawa Glass Exhibition of 2010 in Japan.

In 2014 he took part to the Coburg Prize for contemporary glass competition and was awarded a silver medal at the Kunsthåndværkerprisen af 1879 (Danish Craft Awards, of 1879, presented by the Queen of Denmark).

Ned Cantrell with his sculpture Grinding Tiger, copyright @ Ned Cantrell
Ned Cantrell with his glass sculpture Grinding Tiger

Questions for Ned Cantrell

  1. Hello Ned, we are very happy to have you on our blog! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your work?
  2. Did you always want to be a glassworker?
  3. What does being an artisan mean to you?
  4. Your pieces of work are very unique and eye catching: where do you find the inspiration?
  5. Your work is appreciated in several foreign countries: what is your secret to produce products that are appreciated internationally?
  6. Have you ever collaborated with fashion brands? If not, is it something you would like to do? Are there fashion brands that you wish to collaborate with and why?
  7. You worked with several artisans after graduating. What are the most important things you learned from your mentors?
  8. What does it mean to be an artisan in 2020?
  9. What’s your relationship with your clients? Is their feedback useful for your creativity?
  10. What advice would you give to a young aspiring artisan?

#1. Hello Ned, we are very happy to have you on our blog! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your work?

Hello, my name is Ned. I live in Ebeltoft, Denmark where I share a glassblowing workshop with my wife, Karen Nyholm, since 2004.

I work almost exclusively with blown glass and specifically hot- sculpting. Hot-sculpting involves forming a bubble, or solid glass, while it is molten on the end of a blowing iron using only the simplest of tools, tweezers, scissors and the like. It is a very dynamic and fluid process which I enjoy.

I am also a part time firefighter and I probably have a few more Star Wars toys than most people.

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Portrait of Ned Cantrell

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#2. Did you always want to be a glassworker?

When I was young I shared the common perception of glassblowers making colorful knickknacks, bottles and vases to put on the mantelpiece. That didn’t appeal to me at all. I wanted to be an artist. Then, when I tried it, I was totally seduced. Now I make colorful knickknacks for a living.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being, glass sculpture by Ned Cantrell

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#3. What does being an artisan mean to you?

A high level of skill gives my work credibility when the subject matter is often frivolous. Like a magician dazzling you with a card trick with one hand and stealing your wallet with the other.

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Close up of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, glass sculputure by Ned Cantrell

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#4. Your pieces of work are very unique and eye catching: where do you find the inspiration?

Inspiration comes from many sources. Basically I work with a collision of high culture and low culture. 

Objects from pop-culture, trash, tattoos, cartoons- things of little value, and recreating them with virtuoso techniques and precious materials.

Subtopics include questioning the intrinsic value of objects, mass-production vs. handmade, playing with illusions of weight and balance… 

I have been a glassblower for 28 years and during that time explored many different themes. Often an old theme will catch my interest and I will go back to it again many years later, and so I see my development as a spiral.

Hoodie-glass-sculpture-ned-cantrell
Hoodie, glass sculpture by Ned Cantrell

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#5. Your work is appreciated in several foreign countries: what is your secret to produce products that are appreciated internationally?

Never play to the gallery. Whenever I have tried to make work to please an audience other than myself, it has fallen flat on its face.

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Mirrored Tiger, glass sculpture by Ned Cantrell

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#6. Have you ever collaborated with fashion brands? If not, is it something you would like to do? Are there fashion brands that you wish to collaborate with and why?

I have not, although I would like to try that. Takashi Murakami is one of my idols. He has very successfully crossed the lines that separate disciplines. 

Murakami and Superflat have been inspirational for my own work. Recently I had manufactured plush toys duplicating my glass work. Taking expensive and fragile unique pieces and mass-producing them in a cheap and accessible form.

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Ned Cantrell with his wife Karen Nyholm

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#7. You worked with several artisans after graduating. What are the most important things you learned from your mentors?

One of the most valuable things about being an apprentice is that I have made some monumental mistakes at others’ expense.

I was very fortunate to have had several masters who have been very generous and kind with their knowledge. This was before youtube, so understanding techniques, equipment or an artist’s process, involved getting off your backside. I think most established craftsmen do appreciate and will reward a young person’s hard work.

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The making of Emperor’s New Clothes, glass sculpture by Ned Cantrell

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#8. What does it mean to be an artisan in 2020?

Jesus wept!

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#9. What’s your relationship with your clients? Is their feedback useful for your creativity?

Honestly, the best thing a client can do is give me free hands. If they have come to me, I assume it is because they like what I do.

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Golden Astro, glass scuplture by Ned Cantrell

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#10. What advice would you give to a young aspiring artisan?

Popular taste is rubbish, so be true to yourself and your own voice. And give yourself time to play. All the best ideas come from curiosity and play.

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Thanks to Ned Cantrell for answering our questions. We are glad to have the chance to talk to an international artisan on our blog.

If you want to keep up with Ned’s latest projects we suggest you to follow him on his social media accounts;

Fancy reading more interviews with artisans? Check out our blog!