Friday, 2 May 2014

Elizabeth McClure: an important influence and a wonderful artist

In my last post about Sue Treanor, I mentioned Elizabeth McClure as Lecturer in Glass at Carrington Polytechnic, UNITEC in the 1990s. Elizabeth is someone whose role in New Zealand glass is perhaps less well known. To my shame I recall giving a talk about glass in the 1980s in New Zealand without mentioning her, when she was in the audience! She was very gracious about it, and we subsequently had a good interview, in the course of which I learned a lot.

I first saw Elizabeth's work in March 1994, at an exhibition Little Jewels organised in the James Cook Hotel in Wellington by the regrettably short-lived Arts Marketing Board of Aotearoa (AMBA). I purchased this exquisite scent bottle there. It's small and delicate, only 5.2 cm in diameter, and decorated in enamels.  It was made in September 1993 - Elizabeth is meticulous in marking her work detail.

The bottle had originally been shown in Making Marks the first solo exhibition of her work after her return to New Zealand, held at the also short-lived Glass Gallery in Ponsonby. The exhibition title aptly references the coloured markings on the pieces.

In her review of the exhibition, which I didn't get to see, New Zealand Herald writer Helen Schamroth noted the work consisted of two groups, large generously proportioned bowls and tiny perfume bottles. Fortunately for me, one of the tiny perfume bottles didn't sell in Auckland, and so formed part of Little Jewels in Wellington.

Elizabeth had taken up appointment in September 1993 at Carrington as Lecturer in Glass. What I didn't realise then, and indeed not until a decade later, was that this was her second period in New Zealand. 

Elizabeth McClure was born in Lanark, Scotland, and qualified in Glass Design at Edinburgh College of Art. She worked for a number of UK glassmakers, ranging from Wedgwood Glass to Michael Harris's Isle of Wight Glass, and also taught glass courses in Sunderland, Dublin and Tokyo. In 1985-6 she taught and worked as a designer of glass in Japan.

During this period Elizabeth had a number of contacts with New Zealand and New Zealanders, meeting Kiwis in the UK and, through NZSAG, corresponding with several NZ glass artists including Ann Robinson. Elizabeth's sister had come to live in Wellington, and in December 1986 Elizabeth came to visit her. When she arrived, there was a Sunbeam glass show at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt.  She was impressed by the scale and the competency of the work, and renewed her contact with Ann Robinson.  She went to Auckland, where John Croucher and Ann met her and showed her the Sunbeam premises, which she loved it.   Ann was especially pleased to meet another woman glass blower, in what was largely a man's field in New Zealand at the time.

A  number of New Zealand polytechnics had set up craft and design courses.  Only Whanganui had glass specifically, but if there was a kiln, then work with glass was feasible.  Elizabeth had trained and worked in all sorts of glass media, and was able to turn her hand to almost anything.  The Crafts Council sponsored her as a visiting glass artist.  They paid her fare to Invercargill where she started.  Southland paid for her to get to Dunedin, who paid for her to get to Nelson, and so on.  From Nelson she went to Christchurch, Wellington (which didn’t have a design school), Whanganui, Hawkes Bay, Hamilton, Auckland for a NZSAG workshop, and to Northland, though that one fell through.  Elizabeth then based herself in Auckland, using the facilities at Sunbeam, including being able to blow some big pieces - until then her work had been mostly small, because she had access only to small facilities. 

Klaus Moje at the Canberra School of Glass wanted to reduce his teaching hours, and Elizabeth was invited to go to Canberra, initially for three months, after which she returned to New Zealand. Klaus asked her back because another staffer left, and what was initially three months turned into a year, then two and then three. Elizabeth maintained her New Zealand connections - both Ann Robinson and John Croucher went over to teach courses at ANU, as did Rena Jarosewitsch (for whom see my 2009 blog New Zealand Glass: Rena Jarosewitsch Continues to Delight.)

Then in 1993 Elizabeth came back to New Zealand, to be involved in the setting up of the glass course at Carrington, as Lecturer in Glass. For reasons too complex to describe here, things didn't work out and she left Carrington at the beginning of 1995, but in that time she taught and influenced quite a number of New Zealand's present day glass artists. Since then, she has followed a New Zealand-based but wide-ranging career as glass artist and as teacher of glass.

In 1997, Elizabeth McClure was awarded a three month Fellowship at the Creative Glass Centre in New Jersey. While there, she  blew about 150 'blanks', with a view to cold working these when she returned to New Zealand. The last 40 or so of those pieces formed the wonderful solo exhibition 'Seasons of Change' at the Dowse Art Museum that resulted from her receiving the inaugural Thomas Foundation Glass Award in 2001. I was delighted to purchase the piece above at that exhibition. It's 18cm wide. 

Australian curator Grace Cochrane write a most insightful essay about Elizabeth's work and career, which was published to celebrate the Thomas Foundation Glass Award.

The third piece of Elizabeth's glass in my collection was made in February 2003.  'Marui sculpture #3' shows Elizabeth's ongoing sensitivity to the Japanese aesthetic, as well as her amazing patience in the cold work treatment she frequently gives her surfaces. Perhaps appropriately, it was part of an exhibition at Masterworks' waterfront gallery timed to coincide with the America's Cup races in 2003, entitled Showing Off. It is 5.5cm in diameter.