Cleveland Comhrá: Aidan Scully &
By Bob Carney
Cleveland Comhrá: Aidan Scully and Hawkes Crystal
By Bob Carney
Most of us have some experience with a certain brand of Irish crystal, and for me, I believed that it was sort of a benchmark for cut glass. That is until I met Aidan Scully. Aidan is a Master Brilliant Cutter and Designer, one of three working in the United States.
He is a native of Co. Cork and has made America his home since 1985. We were able to talk about his craft and passion and his company, Hawkes Crystal in Tiffin, Ohio.
Can you explain the difference between the Waterford and European styles and brilliant cut crystal?
Brilliant cut or brilliant period crystal has to do with the cut, a 180 degree cut traps light, while a 120 degree cut reflects it. Waterford reflects light, a brilliant cut is deeper with sharper edges and traps the light giving it a brilliant appearance.
I should say I do both types of cutting, not everyone is looking for a brilliant cut on things. Brilliant cut requires more patience and skill, it’s a dying art.
You do have an apprentice though?
He’s not really an apprentice anymore, he’s been with me seven years now. I’ve passed what I could on to him, hopefully in a couple of months we can take on another apprentice and Aaron (Aaron Gooding) can teach him, what I have taught him.
I’m doing more custom work now, corporate and one of a kind pieces. That’s what I like to do. A couple of weeks ago I delivered a table top to a family with the family coat of arms and a nice design on it, that was a 4ft by 3ft table top. That’s the stuff I like to do.
People will send or bring me a picture of their dog or cat and I duplicate it in glass. A lot of images of buildings, homes and even castles, stuff like that. Especially around Christmas time, I’ll get a lot of orders for things like that, along with hundreds and hundreds of ornaments, a lot of corporate orders.
Is it just you and Aaron that do all of those?
Yeah, just me and Aaron, we churn it out. We have a standing order for 1,200 but will do as many as 5,000 custom Christmas ornaments. We don’t get too much sleep when it comes to Christmas.
In the seven years we’ve never missed a deadline. If I have to stay until one or two in the morning I’ll do it.
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How did you become interested in crystal cutting?
I used to walk by a glass shop on my way home from school, I lived about sixty yards away from the shop, and I would stop and look at all the crystal. The fellow that ran the shop was from Waterford and one day he said, “I heard you’re pretty good at art at school.”
I went to school with his daughters, I said, “I’m allright.”
He said “Maybe you’ll want to try this?” I went and took the apprenticeship test and passed and the rest his history.
How old were you then?
I was seventeen at the time. I worked for him for about six years, then moved to Kerry and worked there for three years. I worked at a little shop that had opened in Killarney, Three Legs Crystal, that’s where I got the idea to come to America, because I’d met so many Americans.
In 1985, I was asked to come here by a company on West 25th Street. He was doing reproductions of the brilliant period and was looking for a cutter. He had visited the store in Kerry and the one in Cork and knew we were doing that in Ireland, but not on the scale that he wanted to.
In Ireland, it was hard to get the glass blowers to get the glass thick as it needed to be, but he was having it custom made. In Ireland, we’d order a bunch of bowls and there might be an odd one, really thick and I’d go “Wow! I’m going to do a brilliant cut on that.”
I wasn’t really into at that time, the brilliant cutting, because it was tough, it took a long time. I learned my apprenticeship on aluminum oxide wheels, now they’re all diamond, it’s a lot easier to do that kind of stuff now then when I was coming up.
Celtic Art Glass
I opened up a shop in Cleveland, Celtic Art Glass, but had a falling out with my partner. In 2000 I moved to Tiffin and worked for Crystal Traditions. I was supposed to go for six months, but have been here ever since.
They sold the company to me in 2016, and in the transaction, I always knew they had the trademark for Hawkes, but they never used it. They’d create one or two pieces a year to keep it, but that’s all they did.
When I got a hold of it, I dropped Crystal Traditions, that I still own, and reintroduced Hawkes Crystal. With the history of Hawkes, it’s known all over the world. You’ll find a Hawkes piece in every glass museum, no matter where you go in the world.
What makes T.J.Hawkes glass superior to other crystal?
It wasn’t superior, a lot of Americans were doing the same. His cutting was the same, but his styles were different, totally unique. He’d go to world fairs and win them. The Americans would compete against the Europeans and knock them out of the park, because of the brilliant cutting.
It took a while for Europe to catch on; the Czechs were the first to start copying it, than the Germans. It was never big in Ireland, but a lot of the Hawkes cutters were from Ireland.
In many Irish-American households there are examples of Waterford, I always believed that it was the best.
Waterford has to be commended for their marketing, the cutting is average. Some of the earlier pieces are very good, the quality back then, some of the work was phenomenal, right up there with the brilliant period.
As they got bigger, they started cutting back on the quality and making their glass thinner. You have to be very careful with Waterford now; when the Iron Curtain went down, they went and bought glass factories in Eastern Europe and when the economy dropped out, they laid a lot of people off in Ireland and brought glass from Europe and put their stickers on it and shipped it to America.
People would buy it without seeing or reading the Made in Czechoslovakia sticker on it. The Irish government finaly put a stop to it.
They’re not as big as they used to be, and if it doesn’t say made in Ireland, it’s not Waterford. They’re also all diamond cut now. The thing is with diamond cut and stone cut, you get a better polish with stone. We acid dip and when you cut with diamond you have to leave it in the acid longer than you do with stone. What that does is rounds the cut off and it starts to look like it’s a pressed piece of glass, it loses that sharpness.
You can visit Aidan at Hawkes Crystal in Tiffin. 207 S Washington Street, or on line at hawkescrystal.com
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish language and history and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Rían, Aisling and Draoi and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at ca**************@gm***.com