Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Early New Zealand Glass Artists' work to be displayed

This year the New Zealand Society of Artists in Glass celebrates its thirtieth anniversary. One of the features of every NZSAG conference these days is an exhibition of members' current work. That will be true again this year, with the added bonus that there will also be included some of the earliest work by the pioneers of studio glass in New Zealand. Artists have been searching their basements to find the earliest examples of their work, but I am delighted to have been asked to lend a few pieces from my own collection. One is the Mel Simpson tall bottle I blogged recently, and another is the 1983 Robert Middlestead stained glass panel I blogged in August 2010. A piece by Libby Gray I blogged in January 2008. Here are some others:

The piece at left is a vase made by Peter Viesnik, signed VIESNIK '80. It was in 1980 that Peter teamed up with the other Peter, Raos, to form the Hot Glass Company that they operated successfully at Devonport until about 1990, when the partners moved on. Much of Peter's (in fact both Peters) early work is not signed, so I was very pleased to come across this in a Whanganui second hand shop in 1995.

I talked about Reg Kempton, New Zealand's first studio glass artist in May 2007, but the piece selected for the NZSAG show is not one I showed then, so here it is. Like all the pieces by Reg that I have seen, this is neither signed nor dated, but it does have the distinctive handwritten paper label that Reg's wife Ellen put on some of his pieces as a marketing tool. Judging from other pieces I have seen my guess is that this was made in the 1970s, though I can't be certain.

And finally, just to get the balance right, here is the piece I am lending by the other Devonport glassie, Peter Raos. This is slightly later, being signed RAOS '83, but it is the earliest signed piece of his I have.

The exhibition should be
well worth seeing, for anyone interested in the history of studio glass in New Zealand, as well as in New Zealand glass artists' current work . It is being held at Essenze Gallery in Parnell Rd, with the opening as part of the NZSAG Conference on Saturday 23 October, and continuing there for public viewing until the following weekend.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A New Old Mel Simpson Bottle

I have been delighted recently to acquire one of the oldest pieces by Mel Simpson that I know. The TradeMe vendor said it had been identified by Cordy's in Newmarket as a being piece by Mel. I was intrigued, since it looked more like a Kuepfer bottle, so I wondered how Cordy's knew. The vendor then said that in fact it was signed on the base. So imagine my delight when it arrived in the mail to discover not only Mel's name but the date '77 there too, in upper and lower case script - Mel Simpson '77.

After completing his BFA at Elam and MFA in Design at Illinois, Mel studied glass at UCLA in 1975, with help from the (then) QEII Arts Council. He then came back to New Zealand to set up the glass studio at Elam. 1977 must have been almost his first year of production in New Zealand.

This tall bottle form was a favourite of Tony Kuepfer's - I have blogged about Tony's bottles previously. The earliest bottles of Tony's I have seen date
from about this same time - Tony signed few of his early pieces, and dated fewer, sadly. The similarity of form makes me wonder if one of them stimulated the other - I know they were in contact about this period. This is the only bottle like this that I have seen of Mel's, while Tony made a couple of hundred, he thinks - I have about thirty five of them. This bottle is 33.5cm high, much larger than the other Mel Simpson piece I have from 1977, shown at right, which is 9cm high, and also signed MEL SIMPSON '77, in the block capitals that form his more usual signature.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Bursting Bubbles: 30 years of NZ Society of Artists in Glass

The New Zealand Society of Artists in Glass was founded in August 1980 at the first New Zealand Glassworkers Symposium, a gathering of 53 glass artists and enthusiasts at Hawkes Bay Community Coillege, Taradale. The first NZSAG conference was held in August 1981at the Hot Glass Company workshop of Peter Raos and Peter Viesnik in Devonport, Auckland.

NZSAG is going to celebrate its 30th anniversary at its Conference and Annual General Meeting to be held at Alexandra Park in Auckland at Labour Weekend 2010. Registrations are now open, with early bird registrations closing 24th September 2010.

A great programme of speakers, demonstrations, exhibitions and celebrations has been arranged

For full details and a registration form go to

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sue Hawker Wins Ranamok

Congratulations to Kerikeri glass artist Sue Hawker. Sue was awarded the 2010 Ranamok Glass Prize with her tall Pâte de verre vase entitled Too much is never enough.

The Ranamok Glass Prize was established in 1994, and is an annual award for glass artists who are resident in Australia or New Zealand. Works selected for Ranamok are expected to be 'a major effort in the artist's personal body of work'. The judges look for pieces that are innovative and display excellence and imagination in both the quality of the idea and its execution.

Sue's caption for her work says: Too much gloom, too much doom. Too much misery, too much! Enough! Drink of Me, I am joy and vitality. Now too much is never enough.

But for the Ozzies it's just possible too much may be too much. Sue is the third Kiwi to win Ranamok in the last four years, following Lisa Walsh in 2009 and Evelyn Dunstan in 2007. Other Kiwi winners include David Murray in 2003 and Emma Camden in 1999. If we don't watch out, the Ozzies may discover that fire blight can be transmitted on glass.

Well done, Sue.

(photo: Ron Hawker)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Robert Middlestead architectural glass

I've been taking a bit more interest in New Zealand architectural glass lately, for several reasons. One of these was the need to include architectural glass in the note I wrote for the forthcoming book on NZ glass being published by the NZ Society of Artists in Glass. That led me to try to make contact with Robert Middlestead, which I was able to thanks to the wonders of Google. As a real bonus, however, Robert was in New Zealand recently, finally tidying up and disposing of his workshop studio, which he had retained even though it is a long time since he lived and worked here. So I was able to meet him and talk about his work.

Robert was born in Canada in 1947. On his post college wanderings in 1974 he arrived in Auckland. In due course he met John Croucher and became involved in the Sunbeam Cooperative of glassworkers. He had had a minimal amount of exposure to glass in California on his travels, but like many other early Sunbeams he was substantially self taught.

After working at Sunbeam in Jervois Rd, Robert bought a disused factory in Garnet Road, Grey Lynn (left). Robert exhibited widely, with works in Art in Architecture 1982, Pacific Glass '83, and the Philips Glass Award exhibitions in 1984 and 1985. He was one of a number of New Zealanders who exhibited in Japan in Glass '84 in Japan, and also in New Zealand and Australian Glass in Germany. Since the late 1990s he has lived and worked in Portland Oregon, though 'home' at present is frequently his beloved yacht.

The piece shown above entitled Crossroads was his entry into the Japanese exhibition in 1984 - he had retained in amongst his belongings in Auckland.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Passing of Stephen Bélanger-Taylor, window maker

I have just learned with sadness of the death in July 2009 of Stephen Bélanger-Taylor. I visited Stephen and Denise in their studio set against the foothills of the Southern Alps west of Geraldine in 2007. I went to see Denise's blown glass work, but was delighted to learn of Stephen's work with stained glass, his pride in his energy efficient kiln design, and to visit his then recently opened window at Woodbury.
Stephen Bélanger-Taylor held a BA from the Royal College of Art, London. He was an Associate of the Royal College of Arts, and Fellow of the Master Glass Painters in England. Stephen Taylor was born in South-East London in June 1940 during the blitz and the Battle of Britain. The repair, restoration or replacement of windows in bombed-out churches and cathedrals throughout Europe was to become a significant part of Stephen's life as a stained glass designer. It is said that Stephen would refer ironically to Adolf Hitler as the 'patron saint of stained glass'.
At 15 Stephen won a year’s scholarship at the Wimbledon School of Art where he was introduced to stained glass, and where he learned the skill of its restoration. He then won a place at the School of Stained Glass at the Royal College of Art, London. His studies took him to Paris and all over France where he learned the historic glass techniques of the early Flemish Glass Masters in order to replicate 12th to 14th century glass and pigments. On completion of his studies, he lectured at the Royal College of Art. In 1968, after receiving a stained glass commission at St James Cathedral in Toronto, he moved to Canada. He later lectured at Toronto University, Humber College and Georgian College in Ontario where he met his wife, Denise Bélanger.
Some of Stephen's most notable works in Canada are windows in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto, St Luke's Thornhill, St Michael's and All Angels Etobicoke and Picton Town Hall.
During their time in Canada, Stephen and Denise set up a joint glassworks studio near Picton by Lake Ontario in Canada. After an initial visit to New Zealand in 1985, Denise and Stephen made a number of visits here and finally migrated in 1995, and established their home and studio outside Geraldine.
In his glass art in New Zealand, Stephen worked closely with artist Beverley Shore-Bennett of Wellington. They had a long and fruitful creative partnership, producing numerous windows in many parts of the country. Some examples of their collaboration I know of are in the Anglican Cathedral in Napier, in Holy Trinity Church, Devonport, the Old Girls Chapel at St Cuthbert’s College in Auckland, St Matthew in the City in Auckland and the Lady Chapel windows in the Cathedral of St Paul in Wellington. Stephen designed and made the Nurses' Memorial Window in the Nurses' Memorial Chapel in Christchurch. In 2007 Stephen created what he believed to be one of his finest works, at St Thomas’ Church, Woodbury, not far from where he and Denise lived (shown above and his signature at left).
Stephen's substantial body of work is an enduring legacy of inspirational art.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Chuck Simpson Liked Perforated Glass

The piece I posted yesterday to celebrate the installation of my new glass studio was made by Chuck Simpson in the studio at Inglewood that he operated with his wife Lesley Justin, after Tony Kuepfer moved to Whanganui. It's not dated, but has his full name signature Chuck Simpson. I have another piece, not signed or dated, but again perforated, and I am sure it is Chuck's work.

Chuck of course made a name while he was in New Zealand for the stoush he had over some other perforated pieces with James Mack who was the selector and with the organiser of a national glass exhibition at the Suter Art Gallery in Nelson - but that's another story.

Sadly, both James and Chuck are no longer alive.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

A New Home for my Glass

At long last I have created the space to house and work on my collection. A new studio addition to my home provides space for the glass collection, and also makes my house more toddler - friendly, so it should be possible for those grandsons to visit. And it means I can show my collection to glass enthusiasts who may care to call.

In moving the glass into its new home (a work in progress - the new shelving hasn't arrived yet), I have rediscovered some old friends, as well as getting a few surprises at pieces I had forgotten. The plan is that this will also result in more blogging, with these newly found old pieces to write about. I have better facilities for photography, too, so hopefully that will improve as well.

So here as a teaser is a fairly remarkable piece, made in Taranaki in the 1980s. I'll tell you more about it in a future blog.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Rob Hooper was an early NZ Glass Artist

Rob Hooper was working as a technician for the Govett Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth in 1973 when he met Tony Kuepfer, who had recently arrived from the US. Over the next year Rob assisted Tony in the building of Tony's concrete block glass studio next to the church in Inglewood, which opened in 1974. Rob spent a year blowing glass with Tony, then went travelling and visiting glass studios in Europe. When he returned in 1976, Rob worked with Tony and John Parkin at Inglewood for a few months, then set up his own studio in the Waikato - John Parkin came to work there too for a period. In 1980, Rob Hooper moved to Henderson in Auckland and established a studio there. He entered pieces in the 1984 and 1985 Philips Studio Glass Award exhibitions at Auckland Museum.

I have not seen any glass signed by Rob Hooper, so all the pieces in my collection have been attributed to him, sometimes with confirmation by Rob himself. The vase above with cane inclusions is 15 cm high. It was offered for sale on TradeMe by a trader who said she had bought it from a woman who purchased it directly from Rob Hooper when he was involved with the artisan group at Albany in the 1970s (though she may have meant 1980s). The mug at right (9.5cm high) was part of a group of ruby glass, which I bought thinking this might be by Tony Kuepfer. When it arrived it clearly isn't Tony's work, but comparison with another piece in my collection suggested it might be by Rob Hooper.

In response to an email enquiry Rob has confirmed this, saying: 'Yes, both these pieces are mine. The copper red was particularly unpredicatbale in the mixed container glass batch I used to make'.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Mel Simpson Discovery

It's always nice to discover something new about a piece in my collection. I have been doing some historical research in connection with a forthcoming book to be published by the NZ Society of Artists in Glass. I was examining (not for the first time by any means) the catalogue for the 1985 Philips Studio Glass Exhibition, held at Auckland Museum. To my delight, I realised that the catalogue image shown of a piece by Mel Simpson very closely resembles, or indeed may be exactly, a piece of Mel's now in my collection. I bought it on TradeMe in December 2006, but I hadn't noticed the comparison until now.

It is 27cm in diameter and 13 cm high. On the base it is engraved 'Simpson NZ 85', and also has a white paper adhesive label printed in black 'Hand made in NZ by MEL SIMPSON'.

It's not entirely clear from the catalogue which piece this is, but it is most likely no. 39 'blue fluted bowl', for which the price was $85. I would have happily paid that for it but of course, I didn't! Mel exhibited six pieces in the 1985 Philips Studio Glass Award Exhibition, three plates, a vase, a fluted bowl and a piece, presumably sculptural titled 'Relationship Series No. 2'.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Beautiful Early Hoglund Bottle

Ola and Marie Hoglund came to New Zealand in 1982, initially to work at Hokitika Glass, before setting up their own studio in Nelson in 1984. They have used their considerable skills, both in glass-making and in marketing, to establish a significant position for themselves in New Zealand glass.

They have always clearly marked their pieces, often with an applied label as well as an engraved signature. This makes their glass easily recognisable, and attractive to collectors who may not recognise unsigned pieces by other early NZ glass artists.

I have several early pieces of their work, the oldest a rather thick and heavy cylindrical vase signed 'Ola Hoglund 1984', and with a printed paper label, black on white, 'Handmade by Ola Hoglund New Zealand'. It's 23.5 cm in height.

I was very pleased recently to add another large and early piece, bought at auction on TradeMe. It also has a printed paper label, this time black with white text 'Handmade by Ola & Marie Hoglund New Zealand', and is signed on the base 'Ola & Marie Hoglund 1986 NZ'. It has a 'post technique' neck, and is 24.5cm high.