“I HAVE a deep, spiritual relationship with glass,” says Jeremy Langford, adjusting his black kipah before leaning forward onto one of his own creations — a finely wrought, all-glass conference table.
Langford, an innovative glass artist whose work is displayed in locations across the globe, fell in love with glass on a trip to Israel when he was 18.
“I was already dabbling in glass at the time, but I found a sandstone coated in iridescent glass, probably dating back to Roman times, at the edge of the sea in Caesaria,” he recalls. “It was one of the most beautiful pieces I had ever seen, and it had profound effect on me.”
Although the sandstone was far too heavy for Langford to lift, he was unwilling to return to England without it. In order to get it home, he spent about a week dragging it a few feet every day, burying it in the sand at nightfall, then returning the next day to repeat the process.
As soon as Langford returned to London, he headed straight to a renowned glass artisan with a few of his own handmade pieces and asked to study with the artist. Following this classical education in glasswork, Langford made his way to South America with a backpack and a bag of tools for what he calls “an extended period of time.” Langford funded his travels by creating sculptures and glass art pieces commissioned by wealthy ranch owners.
After his stint in South America, Langford, whose family name was Lelyveld and who is related to the late Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, split his time between England and Israel. A deepening interest in Kabbalah studies brought him to Ben Gurion University in the early 1980s, where he lectured to a group of scientists.
“One of the scientists in quantum chemistry was interested in science as a pathway to deeper realms of existence,” says Langford. “We hit it off immediately, which gave me an even better reason to like Israel.” In fact, Langford credits that scientist, who eventually became his wife, not only with grounding him in a studio in Israel, but also with helping him create a new technique to color glass using her extensive knowledge of chemistry.
Today, Langford employs over 30 different techniques in the two distinct areas that define his work: architectural glass commissions designed for synagogues, buildings and private residences, and fine art glass sculptures crafted for museums and individual glass and Judaica collectors.
Although Langford has completed hundreds of glass creations over the course of his career – from a wavy reception desk made entirely of stacked, green glass to enormous glass fountains – his most ambitious project to date was completed last year in Jerusalem. Commissioned by the Israeli Government and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Kotel project consists of eight stacked glass sculptures. The sculpture was constructed among the ruins of the Herodian Second Temple, which dates back 2,000 years. Langford explains that the myriad layers of glass in each of the eight sculptures symbolize the long history of the Jewish people.
The exhibit, which opened in the fall of 2006 at the visitor’s center at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, required three years of manufacturing, eight months of on-site work, and 150 tons of glass.
The central sculpture, “Yearning to Zion,” represents a symbolic return to the Promised Land. Weighing 15 tons and standing 30 feet tall, it is constructed of thin pieces of stacked, luminous glass. According to Langford, glass was the medium chosen to symbolize the history of the Jewish people because of its aesthetic qualities and versatility.
The seemingly hard and brittle surface of glass appeals to Langford because it can be transformed into something soft, sensuous and expressive through light. This signature leitmotif of opposing forces underlies all of Langford’s artistic creations — from gigantic sculptures and fountains to small creations for private collectors. “Life is all about bringing opposites together,” says Langford, a philosophical glint in his bright blue eyes.
In the coming months, he will be creating a glass channukiah (Chanukah menorah) for a synagogue in Switzerland, three 20- foot-tall glass sculptures for Trump Towers in Sunny Isles, Fla., and a large glass and stone Holocaust memorial for a synagogue in North Beverly Hills.