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.