“Ships capture people’s imaginations,” says Andrew Brown, co-founder with Nanna Backhaus-Brown of glass-art company Backhaus-Brown. This is certainly the case with the intricate, decorative handblown model Viking versions the Denmark-based duo has been creating since 2016. One of the very first they produced in 2016 was snapped up as the centrepiece of the Danish Pavilion at Rio’s Olympic Games, and they’ve since been exhibited worldwide at the likes of London’s Saatchi Gallery and Florida’s Art Palm Beach. Most recently, three bespoke ships decorated Fox Sports’ television studio in Moscow for the 2018 World Cup.
Created in collaboration with cabinetmakers Egeværk and inspired by the maritime heritage of Denmark’s Hundested harbour, where the two companies’ workshops sit side by side, each bespoke Glasskibe (from £5,300) is crafted from fine glass and oak – the same wood used in the original Viking ships – and takes around 50 hours to complete. “The glass hull is handblown, diamond-cut and decorated, often using the Italian battuto technique we specialise in to make unique patterns,” explains Brown. “The Egeværk team then creates the woodwork, before the ship passes between our workshops for final finishes and polishing.”
While ready-made ships are available, many clients prefer to commission bespoke pieces that incorporate personal emblems, stories and colour choices. Some are designed with clients’ Scandinavian ancestry evoked through patterns and engravings. Others interweave significant motifs, as in the case of Midgårdsormen, the Nordic name given to the boat created for a war veteran, whose dragon tattoo symbolising personal strength was replicated in the shape of his ship’s frame.
It’s painstaking – and extremely delicate – work. “Plenty of pieces get broken in the production process,” says Brown. “We’re pushing the limits of what you can do with wood and glass. But it makes for the best results.” Indeed, given both brands’ reputation for fine craftsmanship – Backhaus-Brown’s glassware has been sought after by gallerists and collectors since it launched in 1993, while Egeværk duo Mette Bentzen and Lasse Kristensen are respectively a medallist woodworker and the Nordic cabinetmaking champion – it’s little wonder the collaboration is courting such a high-profile following. “People are fascinated by the historical aspects, as well as the sculptural side,” says Brown. “Glasskibe has a life of its own.”