Saturday, 8 December 2012

Avalon Glass Should Not Be Forgotten

One trap when you try to write a short history of something is that you leave somebody out. When I wrote my essay The beginnings of New Zealand glass in New Zealand Glass Art (Bateman 2010), I made just that mistake. I tried to describe all the glass studios that were in existence in the 1970s and 1980s, but sadly I left out a small but important example, Avalon Glass which was set up in 1985 near Fox River on the West Coast of the South Island. Although I didn’t know a great deal about it, I was aware of it and I should have included it - I simply overlooked it. I must apologise to all those involved, especially Greg Smith who had told me about it.

This small bowl, a recent TradeMe purchase, is signed G Smith 88

But I know a lot more about Avalon Glass now, because, through the kindness of Evelyn Dunstan, I have been able to read the remarkably frank and revealing paper that Greg Smith gave on the history of Avalon Glass at the 2003 conference of the Glass Art Society in Seattle, USA. Entitled “The Blood, the Drugs and the Fear: The Founding of Avalon Glass”, it has been helpful in providing background to the history of Avalon that follows.

Bowl above signed G.Smith 90, vase at right signed G.Smith Te Miko 1990

Avalon Glass was set up by a group of people with no experience of glassmaking in a place that had no electricity and had no fuel for making glass. In 1985 a group of hippies at the Fox River commune decided, for whatever reason, to set up a glass studio. In order to provide enough light to be able to see, a small creek in the hills behind the commune was dammed. A pipe from the dam brought water, and sometimes mud and all sorts of other things, down the hillside to drive a Pelton wheel connected to an inverter and a bank of truck batteries. Greg says there was sufficient power for two dim lights.

The closest source of gas was a supplier of bottled LPG 300 miles away. The distance and the cost suggested they make their own gas. They bought a wood gasifier from Auckland. Although the local timber mills could provide a ready supply of fuel, the wood had to be trucked 30 miles, it had to be cut into small enough pieces for the gasifier, and because of the climate it was often much too wet to burn. Eventually, after a lot of effort and going through a large number of chainsaws, they managed to produce a very variable supply of gas. Building a furnace was the next task, one which fell to Greg’s lot, and not one in
This paperweight is signed R.Reedy 1994 NZ

which he experienced immediate success. When it was finished they needed glass. They spent days at the local rubbish dump collecting bottles which they took back to Avalon to wash, break up and throw into the furnace. The avid drinking habits of much of the local population also provided a source of bottles, in exchange for supplies of coffee or cannabis.


Greg summarises all of this by saying “So there we were, a full-fledged alternative glassblowing studio perched on the side of an unstable cliff overlooking the sea, and we were the source of heat and light for a community of hippies, eccentrics, and burn-outs. There was always someone hanging out in the kitchen, coffee in the pot, pot on the table, and wild stories and reminiscences being recounted”.

In spite of what might seem an unpromising setting, good pieces were produced at Avalon, of which there are a few examples here. The quality of the glass is often very good, with no bubbles or inclusions.

There were a number of people involved in the Avalon co-operative over the years. The founders were Greg Smith, Ross Smith and Lawson Bracewell.  Robert Reedy joined after six months, and Roger Thompson after two years. I don't have examples to show of all of their work from the Avalon period.

 One of Greg Smith's 'anemone' series, this piece is signed 'G.Smith Te Miko 96'

I’ve not seen the name ‘Avalon’ on any glass, though I haven’t seen very much glass from there.  In 1990 Greg Smith set up Te Miko Glass with Carolyn Hewlett, Te Miko being the name of the locality.  At least some of that glass is marked Te Miko, like the anemone bottle shown here, marked Te Miko 96. Commenting on a photograph of it, Greg Smith confirmed he made it. “It was one of our anemone series and in fact one of the last of that period as from 95 on we no longer worked at Avalon and Ross Smith and Lynda Braid changed its name to Seal Island.”  After the first version of this blog appeared, Greg Smith offered me a few corrections (which I have made) and told me that "Ross Smith and Lynda Braid set up Seal island Studios after Ross called time on Avalon Glass, as he owned the building and was the only commune member - the rest of us were locals living elsewhere."

Greg also said he set up Te Miko in 1995 with his then wife Carolyn Hewlett. “As well as blown glass work we made glass jewellery. Carolyn worked as my hot glass assistant. We disbanded Te Miko in 1999.” However, the piece signed G.Smith Te Miko 1990, shows the name was being used before 1995. 

In about 1993 Ross Smith owned the studio and leased it to Greg Smith and Robert Reedy who were making glass there.

Lynda Braid joined Avalon in 1993, and then in 1996 with her partner Ross Smith set up Seal Island Studio, named for Seal Island off the coast a few kilometres north of Te Miko.  Ross Smith, with Greg Smith, had been one of the founders of Avalon.

There is no doubt a great deal more to be told about Avalon Glass, its creation and its operation. What I have tried to do here is correct its unfortunate omission from New Zealand Glass Art and perhaps stimulate those involved to tell their own stories.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Not Such an Early John Leggott Paperweight

Recently I bought on TradeMe, from my usual supplier of Taranaki glass goodies, a paperweight.  It’s a good piece, well made, but what especially attracted my attention was the signature.  It seemed to be clearly signed J. Leggott ’81 N.Z. Now what made that interesting is that the story goes (not the least as provided by John Leggott in an interview in the Taranaki Herald in 1988) that there was this New Plymouth potter called John Leggott, who had previously been potting in North Queensland and fishing on the Barrier Reef. He saw the Pacific Glass ‘83 exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, in 1983, and was so impressed by the wonder of glass that he set up his own glass studio at his pottery workshop in Kellyville Heights, Merrilands in New Plymouth.  There are four pieces in Stuart Park’s glass collection signed J. Leggott ’85, so one would assume they were relatively early pieces John made there.

But my friendly TradeMe supplier was quite sure that this said '81.  He's an honest and reliable sort, so I put in my bid and was successful.  And sure enough, when the piece arrived, it certainly seemed to be dated '81. It must be said there is a little mark near the top of the 1, but it certainly looked like a 1.

So that presented a conundrum.  Like so many NZ glass artists, John Leggott has always been helpful in responding to my enquiries, so I shot off an email to him.  Back came the reply from John:

'Yes, that weight was definitely made by me, Probably at Kellyville studio.  My guess is that I slipped with the Dremel when signing it and it should read '87 ... The bottom of the weight is not ground and the resultant curvature leading into the punty mark makes for some difficulty when using a cheapo vibrating diamond-point tool.'
So I don't have an antediluvian rarity after all, and it is confirmed that indeed John was not making glass in 1981. But it is a nice piece and I don't have any other paperweights John made, so I am pleased to add it to my collection.

Here are the 1985 pieces by John Leggott I already had, still the earliest of his in my collection:


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Lots of Glass Doings

Recently I had a very enjoyable extended road trip to the South Island, culminating on my way back home with participation in the AGM and Conference of the New Zealand Society of Artists in Glass and the Wanganui Festival of Glass.

While my trip was about more than only glass, I did explore all sorts of exhibitions, collections and installations which offered me many new experiences in glass, yielded a lot of new information and offered me a number of opportunities to add to my collection. I'm planning to share the results of that trip in my blog over the next few weeks.


I don't propose to tell you what these rather varied images are - all will be revealed in forthcoming posts

Monday, 17 September 2012

Garry Nash Glass Workers 1993

Here's another group of New Zealand glass artists, taken ten years on from the NZSAG Inglewood conference photos I posted recently. Peter Viesnik mentioned the photo in an email discussing the Inglewood blog.  Entitled 'Garry and team 1993', the image is on Garry Nash's website at I have viewed it there a number of times, and Garry kindly gave me a digital copy a couple of years ago.  But I was intrigued to realise that although Garry is easy to identify, punty in hand with a piece at the marver, I wasn't sure who any of the others might be.  Some looked a little familiar, but it was nineteen years ago, and I couldn't be certain.

From left, this group of workers at Garry Nash's Sunbeam Glass studio in 1993 were: John Penman, Judy from Sweden (note the Orrefors T-shirt), Stephen Bradbourne, Garry Nash, Lynette Campbell, Hoana Stachl holding a piece of glass, John a visiting house painter (do you know where Garry's ladder is?) and Dong Ju Shin from Korea.

Peter started me with some names, and that led on to an email exchange with several people - I am grateful for their help to Stephen Bradbourne, Garry Nash, Anna Palmer, John Penman and Peter Viesnik.  That has enabled me to identify everyone, with varying degrees of accuracy.  However, I accept full responsibility for the result, and would be grateful for any corrections or additions.  I don't know who the photographer was, hence the lack of credit (sorry).

From my collection here are some examples of the New Zealand artists' work:

John Penman 1997

Hoana Stachl 1999

Lyn Campbell 1996

Stephen Bradbourne 1998

Garry Nash 1992
I have a number of pieces by Garry Nash, but I chose to include this glass because there is a photo of Garry making a glass like this one, probably at the same photo session (same shirt!)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Kathy Shaw-Urlich's 'Tokerau Matariki' a Wonderful Gift

My former colleagues at NZ Historic Places Trust banded together and gave me a wonderful gift to mark my retirement recently.  How they came to select it is a closely guarded secret, but their choice was spot on.  It's a stained glass piece by Northland glass artist Kathy Shaw-Urlich. (I posted a blog about another work of Kathy's I have in July 2011).

 The piece is entitled Tokerau Matariki and was first shown in an exhibition of work to mark Matariki (the Maori New Year) at The Herb Shack in Kaitaia in June.  It seems to me it is a highly appropriate retirement gift for several reasons.  Firstly, its a piece of New Zealand glass, by an artist whose work I love.  Secondly, it speaks of Te Tai Tokerau, Northland, where I have worked for for NZ Historic Places Trust for the last thirteen years, and where I intend to continue living, in retirement.  Thirdly, it speaks of Matariki, a time of new beginnings as we start the new year, highly appropriate for someone entering into a new phase of his life.

Kathy tells me the work shows the hills where she lives with husband Robert at Whatuwhiwhi, on the Karikari Peninsula, Doubtless Bay, and the planting of trees and a garden that Robert is doing next to the sea, an appropriate subject for Matariki, a time of planting.  As Kathy often does, she has included glass from a variety of sources, including a piece left over from glass she had as a student in the 1970s.

Thank you, colleagues.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Evelyn Dunstan Continues to Amaze

I made use of my newly retired person's new-found leisure time last week to visit Evelyn Dunstan's exhibition Influence at Orexart Gallery in Auckland.  This is the first time I have seen a whole exhibition of Evelyn's work (she doesn't often show in New Zealand), and I was just amazed.  Her work is intricate in the extreme, achieving complexities in the form and colour of the glass that boggle the mind.  My reaction to the exhibition was a mixture of appreciation of its sheer beauty, with an intellectual curiosity as to how on earth she manages to achieve these forms technically.  I know it has to do with sophisticated casting materials, but it has more to do with inspiration, creativity, tenacity, perseverance and sheer hard work.

Evelyn's website ( tells us that she started glass casting in 2003 after 25 years as a graphic artist, designer and illustrator, combining a full time career with raising 4 children. In 2002 a life-long passion with clay, the need to develop her own style of art and more family time resulted in the change of career to a full time sculptural artist setting up a home studio.   

Paua 2004 (Stuart Park collection) 

After working with colour all her life, Evelyn discovered in leadlighting the properties of glass, combining colour with light.  She followed that with a basic night class in glass casting (2003) adding to sculptural forms the depth and dimension of glass.  In 2004 I went to an exhibition at Uxbridge in Howick of work by the students of that course and was delighted to purchase for my collection what Evelyn tells me was the first piece of glass that she sold.  The way she had incorporated colour into the simple, naturalistic form of the paua attracted me to this work.

After continuing to experiment on her own, Evelyn undertook further training at ArtStation in Auckland in 2004.  It must have been a good course, since she had two works selected as finalists for the Australia - New Zealand Ranamok Prize in 2005, another two finalists in 2006, and then won the Ranamok Prize in 2007 with the remarkable Ngahere Karauna (Forest Crown) (

 That basic crown form has continued to provide a basis for some of her work, there being a variety of karauna in the Orexart show.  Two of them (including the one shown above) were entitled Te Turituri, the threat.  By chance Evelyn was in the gallery when I visited, so I asked her about that title.  She explained that the beautiful convolvulus, with its intricate intertwined vines she captures so well is a significant threat in our gardens and bush.  The mix of beauty and danger is an enduring message in art, it seems to me.

The exhibition also included several of Evelyn's remarkable masks, reminiscent of Venetian Carnevale masks, but with a variety of Maori and Pacific cultural references, as well as European ones.  Evelyn's installation  of 24 masks Transparent Illusions was one of her two finalist works at Ranamok 2010, and won the People's Choice award that year. 

 I didn't see it in Canberra, but it was included as a complete installation in Influence at Orexart, a real bonus.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

NZ Society Artists in Glass Conference at Glassplant, Inglewood April 1983

The New Zealand Society of Artists in Glass was founded in August 1980 at the first New Zealand Glassworkers' Symposium held in Taradale. The next year the first NZSAG Conference was held at The Hot Glass Company in Devonport.  Since then, NZSAG has held a conference every other year, where glass artists meet to discuss and demonstrate their work.  An important element of these conferences has often been the invitation to international glass artists to come to talk, to teach, to demonstrate, as one way for New Zealand artists to augment their skills. The Devonport conference was attended by Americans Richard Marquis and Ed Carpenter, in hot glass and flat glass respectively.

In April 1983 NZSAG held its Conference at the Glass Plant in Inglewood, the studio of Tony Kuepfer. This coincided with the holding of the first major exhibition of art glass in New Zealand, Pacific Glass '83 at the Govett Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth.  The exhibition and the conference marked a major milestone in the development of glass art in New Zealand, and in public perception of it as a new and vibrant art form.

Rear (standing): Marvin Lipofksy; unknown cameraman; Peter Viesnik; Jenny Granville (obscured); Mel Simpson; Holly Sanford (yellow); Julie Podjursky (Peterson); Ken Cooke (behind by door); Johannes Schreiter (behind); Peter Minson; Ede Horton (behind with mug); Linley Adams (Main); Jo Shroff; ; unknown (behind); Libby Gray; Piers Anderson (behind); Victoria Noble; Robert Middlestead (obscured); John Croucher; Rob Hooper (waving); Pat Grove-Hill; Roger Pemberton; Fred Daden (back turned); Marg Osbourne (leaning on sign)
 Front (kneeling): Keith Rowe; John Abbott; Tony Kuepfer; Makoto Ito; a gap ; Lyn McLean; James Walker; unknown; Garry Nash; John Leggott (with apple); Ann Robinson (with the milk for tea); Marg Osbourne (with camera)

Serendipitously I recently came across some photographs taken at the conference by Tim Edwards, then an architecture student writing a thesis on 'Art in Architecture', who took lots of photos with a view to using them in his thesis work.  Now an antique dealer in Wellington (, Tim kindly provided me with copies of some 70 of his slides. I've been in correspondence with quite a number of those who were at the conference, as well as some who weren't, and with their help I have identified most of those in the photos.  In particular, two group photographs posed outside the converted former church that was Glassplant present pretty much a who was who of NZ glass at the time (though a number of people either couldn't attend, or were somewhere else when these photos were taken). Many of these people are still active in glass 29 years later, some are no longer working, and one or two are deceased.  The photos include international guest lecturers Fred Daden (UK), Makoto Ito (Japan), Marvin Lipofsky (USA), Johannes Schreiter (Germany), and Australians Peter Minson and Keith Rowe (in fact a Kiwi, but a long time Oz glass artist).  Ito, Lipofsky and Schreiter were among the exhibitors in Pacific Glass '83.  The two photos are similar, but there are some people in one and not the other, so I include them both.

Rear (standing): Marvin Lipofksy; David Clegg (cap); Peter Viesnik; Jenny Granville (peeking); unknown; Mel Simpson; Holly Sanford (yellow); Julie Podjursky Peterson; Ken Cooke (behind); Johannes Schreiter (behind); Peter Minson; Ede Horton (behind); Linley Adams/Main; Jo Shroff; Libby Gray; Piers Anderson (behind); Victoria Noble; John Croucher; Rob Hooper (beard); Pat Grove-Hill; Fred Daden; Marg Osbourne (with camera)
Front (kneeling): John Abbott; Tony Kuepfer; Makoto Ito;  a gap ; Lyn McLean; unknown; Garry Nash; John Leggott (with apple)

It's been great fun trying to identify these photos accurately.  I accept sole responsibility if I have got something wrong, or if someone I should have picked is labelled 'unknown'; please let me know so I can make any necessary corrections.  I am very grateful to Tim Edwards for permission to publish his photos.