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Remembering Kathryn M Holford: last chance to see

Easter is the last weekend to see the beautiful memorial exhibition at Fen Ditton Gallery, sensitively curated in memory of Kathryn M Holford. Kathryn (or Katy as she used to be known professionally) was a long-standing member of Design-Nation, and a leading and award winning designer of contemporary glass, who more recently turned her talents to painting.

The exhibition includes a number of Kathryn’s oil paintings, botanical studies and observations of the landscapes around her homes in France and England; glass objects made especially for the show from her designs for Cumbria Crystal and Thomas Goode; and a limited edition of sculptural vessels designed by Kathryn and made anew by fellow glass artist and collaborator Bob Crooks. Bob made these vases from the orignal mould, which Kathryn had created in enduring metal rather than the usual more fragile clay. Pieces are for sale via the gallery website along with a publication “Permission to Paint”, which Kathryn worked on towards the end of her life with her partner, writer Mark Rowden.

Kathryn was born in Fen Ditton, and studied glass and ceramics first at Staffordshire University (where she was the Rosenthal Young Designer of the Year on graduation in 1988) and then Royal College of Art, completing her Masters in 1992. Two years later she became a member of our design portfolio, founded by Peta Levi MBE.  Through the 1990s Kathryn forged a career in glass design, working with leading international manufacturers like Stuart Crystal, Visa Alegre (Portugal), Parlane (Turkey), and culminating in a millenium commission for Wedgwood.

In 2004 Kathryn won our Eureka award, sponsored by Laurent-Perrier, for a design project with Crabtree & Evelyn. Her consultancy work was wide ranging, including Sainsburys, Royal Brierly Crystal, The Licensing Company for Perrier-Jouet, Czech & Speake, and Twinings. In 2009 she became creative director for Cumbria Crystal, later becoming their MD. Cumbria Crystal are the only manufacturer of pure lead crystal glass still operating in the UK.

In 2016 Kathryn made the big decision to move away from design and manufacturing, embracing her desire to be a full-time painter and a new life in France with Mark. He says that Kathryn was never interested in the status of being a leading designer or running a significant company. For her it was always about the quality of the work.

Moving into painting gave Kathryn freedom to play, with no constraints around technique or knowledge of materials. Her plafulness and energy came to the fore in this work, albeit with the same creative attention to light, line, motif and with her distinct sense of colour. The publication marking her life begins with this quotation:

“If this life was all I had I would put everything into it (ART). My heart would be bursting open and exploding. There is so much LOVE to give to PAINTING.”

Gallery manager Hannah Munby has worked closely with Mark and independent curator Amanda Game to select works that show the range of Kathryn’s work. Kathryn was decisive in her painting, quick to know what she wanted, but also setting work aside “to settle”, some of which has found its way into the show.

A sign on Kathryn’s desk gave a clue to her thinking: “Kathryn, are you clear?” While spiritual she was also very rational and analytical, bringing this clarity through to her last illness. She was even signing artworks that Mark brought to her while in the hospice in her last days.

Kathryn is very much missed, but her remarkable creativity will live on. She said:

“I have come to realize that as an artist, every part of one’s life is connected with one’s work. It cannot be separated or isolated.”


1. Sculptural vases designed by Kathryn M Holford and mace in 2024 by Bob Crooks, a limitde edition of 10 pieces each in five colourways.

2. 2014 portrait of Kathryn M Holford with one of her designs for Cumbria Crystal, by Barbara Chandler.

3. View of the exhibition at Fen Ditton Gallery, on the outskirts of Cambridge.

4. Tree study, oil on board, 2022.

5. A selection of Kathryn’s vessels at an exhibiton at Fortnum & Mason during London Cract Week 2015.

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Liz Cooper


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