Yesterday I went to the House of Marbles in Bovey Tracey with my local home-ed group. The House of Marbles has galleries of marbles and old pottery, a glass shop filled with artwork made in the building’s own glass-making workshop, and giant marble runs.
The marble runs by Alex Schmid are hypnotic to watch. My favourite is Curriculum Vitae. The marbles are lifted to the top of the run by a chain then let go on to the track. I counted at least five different routes the balls could follow, including loop-the-loops, staircases, and counterweight trebuchets. The marble runs are all made of thick wire welded together and the name of the piece, the year it was built and Alex Schmid’s initials are spelled out in the metal body of the marble runs.
Upstairs there is an enormous marble run, the biggest in the UK, called Snooki. This one uses snooker balls and includes staircases, trebuchets, and a Newton’s Cradle. There are also sections where you can’t see the ball but can hear it whirring round a funnel or rolling down inside a pipe, it is exciting waiting for the balls to reappear from these parts
The marbles gallery contains hundreds and hundreds of marbles and there is a lot of information about the different types, materials, and the methods of making them. I learned that people have been collecting and playing with marbles for centuries and that they have been made from clay, steel, stone, glass, and precious rocks. There are several different types of marbles, including Clambroth (striped swirls on creamy background), End of Day (made with “grits” which are leftover bits of glass), Sulphides (a clear marble with a clay figure in the centre), and Clears and Opaques (single colours). Some of the materials used to colour glass marbles include Gold, Copper, Cobalt, Silver, and Uranium and the swirls and spirals inside some marbles are made using coloured glass canes.
The shop selling Teign Valley Glass has tons and tons of beautiful pieces of art made out of glass. There are glass apples, birds, vases, and glass bowls that look like sea foam and waves. Each piece is made right there in the workshop and is a unique object, and the whole room is full of colour.
There were glassmakers making small glass birds while we were there, and we watched them work for ages. First, one glassmaker would put a glob of glass onto the end of a large metal rod and heat the glass up in the pot furnace until it was glowing orange. He then rolled it in coloured powdered glass, then fused it all together in the pot furnace again. He did this several times with two different colours. Next, he used a pad of wet newspaper to shape the glass into the bird’s body. He then took a pair of tweezers to stretch out a bit of the glass to make the bird’s tail. Finally, he spun it around a few more times in the pot furnace and used the tweezers again to pull a smaller part of the glass out to make the bird’s beak. The process was mesmerising to watch and it made me think about how much effort and time is put into making glass art by hand.
In another room at the House of Marbles is an exhibition showing the history of the Bovey Potteries. The first thing I saw was a scale model of the potteries as they used to be. All around it are cases full of pottery that was made there or found nearby. There are a lot of different types of pots and cups with inspirational messages written on them, and little clay figurines. Much of the crockery is decorated with detailed and pretty patterns, and I’ve taken pictures of these so I can experiment with the patterns at another time. There is a lot of information on cards throughout the room, and a short video about the potteries’ history.
The House of Marbles was fascinating and seeing all the different kinds of artwork has definitely given me some inspiration, and I haven’t even seen everything that’s in there yet! There is a whole section on board games that I didn’t have time to explore. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit again sometime soon, and I recommend a visit to anyone interested in marble runs or local history.