From his studio and workshop in Glasgow, on the banks of the River Clyde, John Galvin creates timeless pieces of sculptural art and furniture from wood, exploring both the intricate patterns, colours and textures of different species and the possibilities of crafting techniques.
John has a long relationship with Highland Park, creating bespoke presentation boxes and cabinets for some of our oldest whiskies, and his beautiful winged case for our 54 Year Old was inspired by his exploration of Orkney with Glass Designer, Michael Rudak. John’s greatest inspiration comes from the natural world, and he firmly believes that this deep connection with nature allows both the smallest details and grandest aspirations for his work to emerge.
“I wanted to immerse myself in the islands again, to capture the soul of Orkney and bring it back to the rock formations and the islands being formed out of the sea in a sculpture that would show Highland Park’s place on Earth through layers of time. When Michael and I explored Orkney together we were on the same wavelength. It was so inspirational; the way the islands change in the light, the natural wild harmony of the landscape, it was just mind-blowing. When we visited the Yesnaby Cliffs, I knew this is what I wanted my design to look like.
When you first see the presentation case it looks like sculpted rock or stone, and that’s to represent the Cliffs of Yesnaby. And when you look closely, you see all the different layers and realise it’s been created using Scottish oak. As you open it up, the doors are like wings – it looks like a bird – and you see Michael’s beautiful glass inside and understand that these natural materials and the craftsmanship are working in complete harmony. My presentation case is like a cloak, enveloping the precious bottle inside which holds the jewel that is this rare 54 Year Old whisky.
“Luxury craftsmanship and rare spirits have a couple of things in common – you need to really know your medium, you’re constantly honing your craft, and you never rush. It’s about experience and knowledge, and that takes decades.”
Oak resonates massively with the whisky industry and I carved and sculpted the wood so that the inside is smooth but the outside is heavily textured to reflect the passage of time as land is formed and weathered; by hand-blasting the oak and digging into the grain I encapsulated the layers and strata of the rock formations we saw at Yesnaby. To pick up the tonal differences in the cliffs, I put each piece through a fuming chamber. Wood is an organic material, so while the process is the same for each display case, they all are slightly different in the end. Sometimes you get dark charcoal tones, sometimes lighter brown, and the beautiful blonde streaks are the sapwood, so you can tell that’s wood from the outer part of the tree. I created fissures in the front and back so that you see the amber glow of the whisky in the middle.
The more you look at the presentation case, the more detail you see and the more you get drawn towards it. Every detail is there for a reason and is telling part of this whisky’s story. It’s like reading a book.”