Saturday, 9 April 2011

James Walker 1948 - 2011

One of the pioneers of glass in New Zealand has died in Wairoa.

James Walker graduated in commerce from the University of Michigan in 1971, then went to travel the world. He first came to New Zealand in 1974 to join his brother on a boat. He worked selling water beds in Auckland, and would go to Australia periodically to renew his tourist visa (he eventually got residency).

James was interested in glass. He saw Dennis Prior selling leadlight lampshades at Cook St market. At John Barleycorn Gallery he saw some of John Croucher's early experiments in glass, made while John and Eric Ineson were working at Claude Neon. James first met John Croucher on the day in January 1976 that John signed the lease on the Sunbeam Glass studio in Jervois Rd, Auckland.

James became a partner in Sunbeam (pictured at right in 2005). Lots of different types of glass were being made by a range of artists. James became increasingly focused on architectural glass, and after the first NZSAG community seminar in Hawkes Bay, where he taught a class in glass etching, James decided to quit Sunbeam and pursue a career in architectural glass. He did well, working a lot with architect Ian Athfield, until things went pear shaped in the 1987 stock market crash.

James participated in the NZSAG run workshops by overseas artists including Ed Carpenter, and also met German artists Ludwig Shaffrath and Johannes Schreiter in Melbourne - he worked as teaching assistant for Schreiter, and both Germans were to be significant influences.

Attendance at Pilchuck in 1989 lead to contacts with Czech artists Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova, and from 1992 James lived and worked in the Czech Republic working in a range of media, but especially creating sculptures in cast glass.

James returned to New Zealand in 2004, and settled in Wairoa. In 2007 he was the William Hodges Fellow at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in Invercargill, where he continued work he had developed in the Czech Republic, including a fascination with the diagonal yellow stripes used as warning symbols in Czechoslovakia. He is pictured at left with 'VenusMaximus'.

Sadly, James developed mesothelioma, attributed to his working with asbestos in his early glass days in Auckland. He died in the Hastings Hospice on April 5th surrounded by family and friends.

I first made contact with James after he returned to New Zealand in 2004, when he visited me and viewed my collection. He was generous with information in a long interview I had with him, and he continued to keep in touch by email, readily answering questions about glass history and offering information. As Grace Cochrane, Evelyn Dunstan and I were working on our texts for New Zealand Glass Art, James was immensely helpful in providing information, comment and corrections.

James Walker will be sadly missed.


  1. Yes, James will be sadly missed.

    It's a shame some of the emerging glass generation don't have so much contact with the Pioneers. I feel much of the history will be lost if we don't do something about recording the history soon.

    His memorial is today.

    Claudia Borella
    President NZSAG

  2. Pandora and Gary, Los Osos, CA16 April 2011 at 13:19

    James had a real gift and was certainly on the forefront of the art glass world. His architectural work was stunning and hopefully is viewed as the masterpieces that they are.

    We certainly enjoyed knowing him, hearing his stories and seeing his work. We send our thoughts to his family and friends. His artwork lives on and remains to remind us all of his humanity.

  3. Sometimes we called him James "Talker" for the very heated debates we engaged in on a wide range of topics around glass. Although "JW" was best known for his stained glass work he always had a burning passion for hot glass and was indeed a pioneer in starting the hot glass direction in New Zealand. I visited his house/studio in Devonport many times and we shared many a glass of ale as we discussed the medium of glass and talked about what he was working on. I also remember James teaching at a NZSAG workshop in the 1990s I have some of that on video and will endeavor to get it to youtube for others to see. Farewell James, fellow glass artist, Peter Raos

  4. I had the pleasure of knowing James from junior high school and high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee at Northside and City High School, respectfully. I believe the last time I saw him was at our 40th class reunion in September, 2001. It was the Saturday following 9/11. James had arrived in the US before the attack so wasn't grounded by the grounding of planes. I doubt very seriously if James had a clue who I was, but I remember him well. It was wonderful to find out he was known as a master in his field of trade. As a high school kid, I would have predicted James would have become a lawyer or a college professor. It is something to discover the reality of how one achieved the level of recognition he achieved. We who knew him were the lucky ones.