Saturday, 18 October 2014

Are These Early Pieces by Keith Mahy?

Garry Nash said this handle was a Mahy trademark 19cm h
In June last year I wrote about the death on 14 June 2013 of Keith Mahy, one of the pioneers of glass in New Zealand One of my considerable regrets is that although Keith lived and worked so close to me in Northland, I never got to interview him about his life and work. I spoke to him about my intention several times and he responded willingly, but I never got round to it.
Sadly now broken, this handle was the identifier too

Again the handle form is distinctive 13cm h
One of the things I intended to do in that interview was to show Keith a number of pieces in my collection that I believe to be his, seeking confirmation that they are Mahy pieces. Keith seldom signed his work, and certainly in the early period I don't think he signed anything. So identifying his work is problematical. Some times a former owner will attribute a piece to Keith, sometimes other glass artists have recognised a piece as being made by Keith, but often I have made a (more or less well-) informed guess, based on design, glass colour and quality, and ultimately, 'gut feel'. It's not a very good way to identify pieces, but it is usually all I have. 
The TradeMe vendor said Keith made this pair of beer mugs
Mugs 12.5cm h left, 15.5 right

Bottle 28cm h, vase 13cm dia
I believe the pieces shown here were all made by Keith in the 1970s or early 1980s. But my purpose is to seek feedback from others who may know. Please let me know if you think Keith did not make a piece (or if you can confirm that he did, better still!). And for those of you who may use my blogs to help develop your own collections, 'caveat emptor et lector' - buyer and reader beware! 

The same vendor said these two were also by Keith

25cm h

23cm h

As I see more pieces, my confidence grows, but equally, the risk of making a mistake grows too! These two bottles 'feel' like Keith Mahy pieces, but are they?

And then, if those are Keith's, what about these?

22cm h

23cm h
21.5cm h
28.5cm h
14.5cm h

21cm h

Sam Halstead, Mt Eden stained glass maker in the 1980s sent me this photo of a Mahy piece he has, which he thought he bought in the early 1980s. That made me more confident about the brown one above.
9cm diam
A neighbour of Keith's in Pahi bought the piece at right from him in the 1970s, which gives me confidence the piece at left is by him too.
And lastly, of course, there can be no doubt about these, though Keith was the designer rather than the maker of these Crown Crystal glass pieces

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Murray Hill Made Lovely Glass at Inglewood

Signed MH85 6.5cm high
Living in Taranaki in 1983, 21 year old Murray Hill became interested in the glass being produced at Tony Kuepfer's workshop at Inglewood. Tony tells me Murray 'kept hanging around'. Having graduated with a B.Sc. in biochemistry, he began working at weekends in Tony's studio in 1983. He worked on the Motunui project and in the dairy factory, and saved enough money to spend a year learning to blow glass – he proved his persistence. Tony was able to arrange for Murray to receive a vocational training grant from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council in 1984 which also supported his working full-time at Inglewood. He continued there until 1987, making exhibition pieces as well as what he referred to as "domestic glass production work". He exhibited in the Philips Studio Glass Award in 1986 and was the overall award winner in the Crafts Council exhibition Glass '87 in Christchurch in 1987. Elizabeth McClure was the judge for the 4th Annual Contemporary Craft exhibition for Glass at Compendium Gallery in Auckland in 1987, and she awarded the prize to Murray.  (You can read about Elizabeth at

Signed M Hill '86, Earthworks paper label 22cm high
In 1988 Murray began working full-time for the Labour Department in New Plymouth, but he continued to blow glass at Inglewood at weekends. He won the ANZ Bank Art Award of $1,500 in the exhibition Fibre and Glass at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington in 1988. In 1989, Murray went to Teachers Training College and then was a secondary school art teacher until 2013. Murray stopped making glass about 1990, though he did exhibit in the exhibition The Drama of Glass in Wellington in May 1991.
11 cm high


The illustration at left is Murray's entry in the 1986 Philips Studio Glass Award catalogue. The blown, cut and acid etched piece was entitled Taranaki Bite. In his artist statement,  Murray said "Glass is very seductive, it is easy to think you are making a statement with a piece, when really you are showing the intrinsic dynamics of the glass. I want to impose on the glass, not have it impose on me."

The piece at right is in a private collection in Taranaki and would seem to be from the same series as the Philips piece. It shows the colour not apparent in the monochrome catalogue photograph.

In an email to me recently, Murray said: "Right from the very beginning I was motivated by the desire to make sculptural  'art' pieces. During the financial strictures of the 80s and 90s this was not always a realistic proposition. Glass studios are expensive to run, and doing a lot of production work to pay the bills quickly stopped being fun. By production I mean the large volumes of day-to-day saleable items. You also had to be a very quick learner (which I wasn't) – studio time and materials cost money and failures had to be minimised. Sadly this worked against following up those mad ideas that were begging to be brought into form. Having said that, my happiest memories are of assisting Tony Kuepfer in the studio – bringing the gathers of hot glass to him (he could really blow glass)  and in his hands, the making of stemmed wine glasses, bottles, plates – anything at all – was this miraculous process. To have experienced that is a true gift. Midwinter in Inglewood was pretty harsh, and a hot glass studio was a great place to be – everyone wanted to stand next to the furnace!

"Lastly I must mention Nelson's Bakery of Inglewood, which was just around the corner from Tony's studio. They made these amazing steak and oyster pies (with real oysters) – stunning! A lot of glassblowing was powered by those pies!"

I'm pleased to report that Nelson's Bakery apparently continues in Inglewood, though I haven't sampled a steak and oyster pie - yet.

Signed 'Dropped by M H 86'  30cm high 

The pieces of Murray's glass in my collection are from 1985, 1986 and 1987. Murray's work in glass seems not to be widely recognised so I show a range of pieces here to illustrate what he produced.  

I asked Murray about the inscription 'dropped by MH' on this piece. He replied: 'When I was assisting Tony a piece would occasionally pop off the punti, and if it was at a certain temperature it would bounce and roll, and with luck the punti could be reheated and the piece picked up, and finished. These pieces always seemed a bit special to me, especially if they came through unblemished - have a close look on the sides and you may see some scuff marks. The odd, dull, hollow clonk these pieces made when they hit the concrete was so surprising, even more so when the piece was at a very finished stage and the crash of shattering glass is expected.  Thanks, that has bought back the memories of all sorts of sights, sounds and smells that were long forgotten.'   

Signed M Hill '86 11.5cm high

Signed M Hill 86, Earthworks sticker 28cm h

This sticker occurs on several pieces of Murray's work

Signed M Hill 87 - as below 25cm high
Signed MH 86 8.5cm high

Signed M. Hill 86 19cm high

Signed M. Hill 86 12 cm h

Signed M Hill 86 14cm high

Signed MH 86 21cm high

Monday, 22 September 2014

So Who Was GBC?

One of the great thrills of hunting for glass on internet auction website TradeMe is when you buy something you don't know what it is, but you have a hunch, and it turns out to be something quite special.

Of course, there are also those occasions when the hunch proves to be wrong, and the piece turns out to be nothing, or something of no interest that I can't identify. Which is why I have a box of motley pieces ready to be donated to the Opp Shop...

But here's one of the success stories.

A chunky art glass goblet, the trader said, with GBC 1979 engraved on the base. No other clues as to its origin or the identity of the maker. The auction was set for bidding to start at $20, with no reserve price.

I racked my brains to think who GBC might be, but to no avail.  There was a photo, which had hints of NZ glass - Keith Mahy seemed a possibility, but he clearly wasn't 'GBC'. The photo wasn't as clear as this one, which I took once the piece arrived, but it was good enough to encourage me to bid. So I did. There was no interest from anyone else, so my opening bid of $20 was successful.

Garry Nash has always been helpful in my NZ glass research (as indeed have others), and he was involved in the glass scene in 1979, so I thought I'd send him an email to ask what he thought.  A few days later I happened to be in Auckland so I called in to Nash Glass to see if Garry had any thoughts about it.  Talking about it with Garry Nash and his colleague Claire Bell, Claire said ‘that could be a J, what is John Croucher’s middle name?’ Garry said at once ‘Barry, John Barry Croucher’.

Which made for a really exciting possibility.  Once the piece arrived and I could handle it, I could confirm that it indeed it had JBC 1979 on the base, as you can see in the photo on the right.

I sent the photos off to John Croucher, who replied, saying: 

'Yep you have a very early Croucher. We had just started blowing full time then. Amazing that people bought enough of that stuff that we could keep on doing it!'

So I am thrilled to be able to add this to my collection. I have several early Crouchers, but this is one of the earliest, and certainly the earliest signed one. The glass is very similar to that used in the decanter I have blogged about before, that was bought at Sunbeam in 1979 but is not signed.  (See 'An Early Piece of Sunbeam Glass?' from May 2007). John was unable to be certain which of the early Sunbeams had made the decanter, identifying Danny Keighly, Ken Cooke and himself as possibilities, though he didn't think he had made it.  But with the signature, there can be no doubt who made this goblet.

Just to round out the story, here are two other early pieces signed by John that I have bought on TradeMe, though I paid quite bit more than $20, since the vendors knew what they were. 


The vase at left is signed 'J Croucher 1982' and the 'Hot Lips' sculpture at right is signed 'J Croucher 83'.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

No More Running Amok


In 1994, Australian glass visionary Maureen Cahill and coal industry executive Andy Plummer teamed up to establish the (then) Resource Finance Corporation or RFC Glass Prize. It involved an annual monetary prize for a work of glass made by an artist in Australia or New Zealand, with the winning piece being acquired for the Ranamok (formerly RFC) Collection. RFC morphed into Whitehaven Coal, Eureka Corporation and Excel Corporation, and the prize morphed in the Ranamok Prize.

The first exhibition was held at the Earth Exchange Museum in Sydney in 1995 and now, in 2014, the 20th Exhibition, being held at the Canberra Glassworks before travelling to Sydney and Brisbane, has been announced to be the last. The Ranamok collection of works by the winners will be donated to the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, which will make it accessible on an ongoing basis.

Photo: Kathryn Wightman
The Ranamok Prize has provided an opportunity for a veritable Who's Who of Australian and New Zealand glass artists to show their skills and compete for the prize. Some of the entrants have been quite new to glass, keen to see how their work stands up in that environment, while Ranamok has also attracted entries from some of the leading glass artists of both countries.

The 2014 Ranamok Prize has been awarded to Kathryn Wightman, who teaches at the Glass School in Whanganui. Dr Wightman's 2011 PhD from the University of Sunderland explored the integration of glassmaking and printmaking, with the development of a number of creative glassmaking processes inspired by printmaking processes, especially related to textiles. Warmest congratulations, Kathryn.

Photo: Kathryn Wightman Facebook
 Kathryn's prize-winning work is a truly remarkable three metre long carpet runner in glass. Kathryn screen-printed coloured glass powders to create a textured carpet pattern. Then, as photos on her Facebook page show, she walked barefoot along the carpet, leaving footprints in the 'sand' of the glass colours. The 'carpet' was then fused in the kiln to create the resulting glass masterpiece.

Photo: Kathryn Wightman Facebook


The only New Zealand finalist in the first RFC Prize in 1995 was Kirsten Sach of Glen Eden. In 1992 Kirsten was a student at Carrington Polytechnic, and I was pleased to buy this small cast glass 'Lotus Cup'  from an exhibition at 'The Pumphouse' in Takapuna that year. Kirsten's Ranamok entry in 1995 was a much more developed work  - you can see it on the very fine and profusely illustrated Ranamok website, which features the work of all the Finalists and the Prize winners.

New Zealand winners at Ranamok have been Emma Camden (1999), David Murray (2003) Evelyn Dunstan (2007), Lisa Walsh (2009), Sue Hawker (2010) and now Kathryn Wightman. I'm delighted that my own collection includes works by all of these except Lisa (must do something about that, Lisa!) even if they are not always quite as grand as the winning pieces. New Zealand Ranamok finalists represented in my collection include Ruth Allen, Claudia Borella, Lee Brogan, Dominic Burrell, Christine Cathie, Mike Crawford, Keith Grinter, Robyn Irwin, Nicole Lucas, Keely McGlynn, Lyndsay Patterson, Lou Pendergrast-Matheson, Rachel Ravenscroft, Carmen Simmonds, Greg Smith, Hoana Stachl.  I even have works by Australian finalists Ben Edols and Michael Larwood in my small non-NZ collection. There have been other NZ finalists, of course, but not represented in my collection - I guess I've just developed a shopping list! 

But I conclude by showing my very own Wightman. You could say I was an 'early adopter' of Kathryn's work in New Zealand. She arrived to take up a position as tutor at the Glass School in Whanganui in May of 2012, and gave a presentation at the NZSAG conference Generate in Whanganui in October 2012, talking about her work printing and creating 'textiles' in glass. I found this fascinating, and struggled to understand just how she did it (I still do, rather). In the associated exhibition of work for sale, Kathryn showed three platters which were some of the last she had made in Sunderland before coming out to New Zealand; I was delighted to be able to buy one of those.

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.