Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Reg Kempton, New Zealand's First Glass Artist?

Arguably our first studio glass artist was Reg Kempton (1897 - 1987), an English glassmaker who began work in the family glass factory in London as a boy of 15 in 1913. Reg’s story is a fascinating one, though I can only present an outline here. He certainly deserves greater recognition than he has yet received – as far as I know there is not a single piece of his work in any public collection in New Zealand, though I am pleased to have several.

After World War II, Reg decided there was no future in England and so he moved to live for a while in Australia, and then set up a diesel fired furnace and coke fired lehr in a studio at Havelock in the Marlborough Sounds in 1963. His wife Ellen delighted in playing “punty boy” to his “gaffer”. In fact, according to their friends, she did a great deal of the “donkey work”, including the hand labelling of the pieces which she came to insist was an essential marketing tool. His earlier work is not marked at all.
Reg’s kiln and studio was built in a lean to behind his house in rural Marlborough. Although the house remains, no trace of the kiln now survives there. Reg Kempton died in Thames in 1987, aged 90.

I first saw pieces in collections owned by his neighbours, then found some in Blenheim second hand shops. Now I am confident I can recognise them even on TradeMe - I have bought several there, and identified pieces for others.


  1. Hi Stuart,
    Intersting infoamtion on Reg Kempton, My husband and I live in Regs old house in Havelock Suburban. The shed that housed his furnace still stands and chucks of coloured glass and fire bricks occasionally pop up in he garden and paddocks surrounding the house. we are amassing quite a collection of colured glass, and wondered what on earth had gone on in the shed for a while.I would be interested in any other information you have on Reg, he seems an interesting character. Kindest regards Sally Neal sallycurr@gmail.com

  2. Kia ora, Sally. I'm fascinated to hear from you, and I'll get back to you as soon as the family has gone home this weekend. But I though you might like to see this on TradeMe - the ID is mine. Auction 547831471 - closes very soon, I see.