Saturday, 9 March 2019

Glass from Rarotonga

There is a web based Glass Message Board people use to exchange information, ask questions, and seek help with identifications related to glass; it can be found at  Not many of the users have interests in glass from my part of the world, so I'm an infrequent visitor, but a question caught my eye today. Jane, from Goulburn, NSW, Australia, asked: 

"I've attached pics of the item - 14cm tall pink jug.  And also of the signature on the base.  It is Australian and I think it is dated 98.  I've searched many different combinations of the name but nothing came up.  Can anyone assist?   Thank you."

Well, I didn't recognise the jug, but the marks on the base gave me a clue at once as to what it was.

The word at the top is 'Raro', and at the bottom is C.Is. To the right, as Jane said, is 98. At first I couldn't make out what was in the centre, but when I asked her Jane sent me a clearer image, which showed me the initials were KM.

That told me that this jug was made in Rarotonga in 1998 by New Zealand pioneer glass artist Keith Mahy. 

I have written about Keith a few times (see for example In June 2013, I wrote about Keith's death (, and explored some of his early work on 18 October 2014
( In my June 2013 blog I said, perhaps a little cryptically: "In 1997, Keith and others developed the Beachcomber Glass Studio in Rarotonga, followed in 1999 by a training course there for young potential Rarotongan glass artists."

Jane's jug is a product of that Beachcomber Glass Studio. Those involved were Keith Mahy; his partner Shona Firman, a glass caster of considerable skill, with whom he had established Burning Issues studio and gallery in Whangarei; and Garry Nash, another pioneer New Zealand glass artist. The New Zealanders took the necessary equipment and materials to Avarua, the capital of the Cook Islands, and set up the Beach Comber Gallery. They set out to teach glassblowing to Rarotongan locals, to form the basis of a new craft industry; glass was a completely new medium for Rarotonga. As well as teaching new skills, the studio would provide a source of income from selling glass to visitors to the islands.

This paperweight was made in Avarua by Apii Rangi in 1999. It is signed 'Apii Rangi Rarotonga. C.I.S. 1999'. Apii was one of those 'young potential Rarotongan glass artists' who participated in the training scheme. 

This paperweight was made in Rarotonga by New Zealand glass artist Garry Nash. It is signed G.N. Rarotonga Cook Islands 1998.

Sadly, Beach Comber gallery and its glass training scheme was short lived, and nothing now survives, apart from pieces like these that were made there. Garry tells me that after a while Apii Rangi left and started working for himself making pearl jewellery.

Footnote: Since I published this, another pioneer of New Zealand glass, Peter Raos, has commented: "The genesis of glass in Rarotonga came from a discussion I had with the Government at the time about recycling some of the waste glass that was piling up around the island. The idea was to transform it into items that could be sold back to the tourists reducing the waste. The model that was eventually tried was never going to be sustainable. A missed opportunity I think."

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