Veterans: An inveterate optimist
By GLORIA DEUTSCH
Jeremy Langford discusses his humble beginnings and what led him to his career as a glass artist.
Renowned glass artist Jeremy Langford is the first to admit that he comes from an unconventional family.
His father, Barry Langford, who died recently, was a BBC producer and a pioneer of Israel television. His mother is a dancer. Sister Caroline had a brief and stormy marriage to Assi Dayan and the fruit of that marriage, his nephew Lior, went through years of drug addiction until he rehabilitated himself and married.
Jeremy went in a different direction, becoming ultra-Orthodox and leaving the show-business roots of his family – his grandfather had been a circus owner and a boxer – to follow his calling in a medium which he sees as heavy with symbolism for the Jews.
“Glass is fragile, just as each person is fragile, but when you layer glass it becomes incredibly strong. You can put 250 tons of pressure on a 60-layer glass construction and it won’t break,” he says. “In the same way, if you put together a unified group of people bonded by a common purpose – the Jewish people – it gives great strength.”
Langford came to Israel with his family at the age of 16 in 1972.
“My father was wildly extrovert and eccentric and as a family we were constantly on the move,” he says. By the age of 16 I had lived in over 40 houses and gone to 35 schools. He was constantly making money and then losing it.”
The family had been living in Australia when father Barry decided to realize his lifelong Zionist passion and come to live in Israel.
“He had been a member of the 43 Group with Vidal Sassoon and had even been imprisoned in Britain for arms smuggling to the Jews in the Yishuv,” he says.
The family settled in Netanya, but Jeremy hated Israel on sight. He left at 18 and hated England even more. He set off on uncharted travels to South America – “my goal was to find a place where they won’t be selling Coca- Cola,” he smiles now – with the aim of making it to the jungles of Guatemala.
He also discovered glass, which would change his life.
“I didn’t know a thing – I started by melting old bottles in ceramic kilns – but I made small decorative pieces and was able to finance my travels by selling my work in the small townships I visited.”
Back in England he met an old glass artist who was impressed with his work, knowing he had had zero training. He became his apprentice and learned some of the 30 different techniques he uses today for the wide range of ideas and projects he produces.
Coming back to Israel, and specifically to religious observance, was a slow process. With his parents divorcing he closed down his studio in England and came back to Israel and started studying Kabbala.
“I’ve always been interested in what is beyond the physical,” he says. “I have a strong sense that what we see with our five senses is just a small part of the story.”
He read and read but found nothing to satisfy his quest for the beginning of understanding – until he decided, as he puts it, “to take on all the trappings.” Since that time, he has never wavered in his commitment to Orthodox Judaism.
In the early ’80s he was invited by a group of physicists at Ben-Gurion University to speak about the Kabbala’s understanding of cosmology.
“I gave a 12-week workshop on what Kabbala has to say about the structure of the universe and its correlation with modern science.”
It was there that he met Yael, of Moroccan origin, who was doing her doctorate in quantum chemistry. They married in 1983 and had three daughters and two sons.
Three years ago, after a wonderfully happy marriage in which he became more and more successful, creating glass art all over the world, Yael suddenly died at the age of 47.
“It was devastating,” he says, “a year of absolute hell for me.”
He was helped to come out of the abyss by what he calls his basic philosophy of life and his innate optimism.
“Losing someone extremely close leaves a gaping hole,” he says. “You can choose to bury yourself in the hole or plant something with deep roots. I chose the latter.”
But something had changed in his work.
“I’ve become far more open about my spiritual pursuits,” he says. “Before, all the Kabbala and spiritualism I kept to myself, I didn’t let it seep into my work. Now so much has opened up which affects my approach to glass sculpture – but in a positive manner.”
Langford has done glass sculpture all over the world, in hotels, museums and private homes. One of the most ambitious projects was the “Chain of Generations” project at the Western Wall, which he finished in 2006.
“It was an amazing project – to be able to work for five years at the Wall, spending eight months physically there, installing the hundred tons of glass in the ancient catacombs,” he says.
“My brief, from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, was to tell the story of the Jewish people from inception until the present day, in glass sculpture. For me it had great spiritual symbolism. Glass is also a symbol of the Jewish people – for all the suffering, I see us being shaped in the process of thousands of years – but we have stayed and triumphed.”
His newest project will embellish the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which is being built in Jerusalem. His brief is to create a work of art with a Jewish and universal message. It will feature walls of glass, running water and blown glass doves around a rounded fountain, symbolizing an optimistic message to the world.
“I’m an inveterate optimist,” he says.