North East Artist’s work to be exhibited at Victoria and Albert Museum

The prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London has acquired four pieces of artwork by a former University of Sunderland PhD student.

Artist Helen Pailing completed her doctorate two years ago at National Glass Centre, where she created the popular chandelier, Adorn, in the venue’s reception area.

National Glass Centre has a long-term relationship with the V&A through a schools programme called DesignLabNation. The programme aims to inspire the next generation of designers by supporting design education in secondary schools – National Glass Centre is one of a handful of UK galleries chosen to partner with the V&A on DesignLabNation.

Head of Arts at National Glass Centre, Julia Stephenson, explained: “As part of our partnership we loan works from the V&A to help deliver our learning programme to local students. When we looked to see what works we thought would inspire young people there were some amazing pieces – but the V&A already had plans for them.

“I had the idea of therefore using the budget to buy an artist’s work, and as this year’s theme is ‘repurposing,’ which is Helen’s area of expertise and artistic expression, I thought of her.

“Her work is a breath of fresh air – she recycles the waste created by glass makers to create these wonderfully original and striking pieces. She’s quite radical and her approach to glass is very different because of her background in textiles.”

Having seen Helen’s work in a National Glass Centre touring exhibition, the V&A agreed to Julia’s plan and has acquired four of her pieces which will be shown at National Glass Centre before moving to their new home at the V&A in Spring 2022. At the same time, National Glass Centre acquired a further three pieces of Helen’s work for its own collection.

Leeds-born Helen is now based in Whitley Bay. She completed a degree in embroidery at Manchester Metropolitan University and then, after several years travelling, she studied a Design Maker MA at the University of the Arts in London.

Helen came to the north east to take up a role as an artist in residence for the Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC) in Northumberland. It was in this role that Helen was introduced to National Glass Centre, where she completed a PhD in ‘recrafting waste’ in glass and ceramics.

Helen said: “I’m honoured my work is to be exhibited at the V&A alongside some incredible pieces from around the world. I’m still in disbelief.

“When I was studying in London we would often go to the V&A to see the glass and ceramics there, but I never dreamed my own work would be on show. It feels like the pinnacle of my career so far.

“My original qualification in embroidery underpins my artistic interests in a way – I use the idea of stitching throughout my work, although it’s not always obvious.”

Helen made the pieces acquired by the V&A as part of her PhD and are currently on show as part of the Re-Purpose exhibition in the collections gallery of National Glass Centre. The exhibition presents work by a number of artists who work with items made in glass and ceramics. In different ways they each re-purpose objects that have been broken, used, discarded or previously seen as a waste product. 

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