Saturday, 22 August 2015

More feast for the admirers of Peter Goss

The earlier article about Peter Goss on this blog has been, by a wide margin, the most popular post we have made. It seems there are many admirers of his work, both those of long standing and those who have discovered his work from our article. To reward those admirers and others, here are more examples from across the glass making career of Peter Goss.

The first is a trio of bottles from 12 to 18cm high, all basically trapezoidal in lower section, although some are more rounded than others. They are all inscribed JFW1 and signed with initials PG. These are Jam Factory output from 1975 or so, in the early days of the plan to use production items to support the workshop and training activities. The numeral 1 in the code JFW1 indicates the first item made of that design. The fact that they are all JFW1 – not JFW2 or 37 or whatever – is a testament to those heady days of experimentation and discovery.

Peter Goss 1975, Jam Factory production, tallest 18cm

For his first year in Queensland, Peter Goss blew glass in a small studio at a tourist attraction on the Sunshine Coast called the House of Bottles. The bowl in the next photo is dated 1979 and clearly carries a strong influence of Sam Herman in its flowing silver chloride trails.

Peter Goss 1979, 8.5cm

After setting up his Paraison Studio Glass facility at Tewantin in 1981, Goss was able to stretch himself more artistically. One feature of his work at this time was the use of hardwood formers inside an open mould to shape the lower part of the items with a rough and random texture. Typically, the textured sections were given a dark colouring to imitate closely the trunk of a tree. It is interesting to speculate on the influence of the designers at Iittala and Whitefriars who famously used bark-lined moulds, although in neither case did they seek a naturally coloured appearance as tree bark.

Peter Goss 1984, 12.5cm
Peter Goss 1982, 16cm

Peter Goss describes the tricky operation of blowing a bubble of molten glass into a mould in a one-person operation without assistance (a restriction not imposed on the industrial glassblowers):

The wooden former for this piece was hinged on one side, and the pre-burnt former was clipped into a mould boy. I then brought the second gather of hot glass on my blow pipe to the mould boy (you stand on the mould boy and operate the closing and opening of it with your right foot) and lowered glass in to the closed former, then blew down the blow pipe to take on the burnt out shape. Once formed the mould was opened and the piece was then transferred to a puntee.

We noted previously the influence of Sam Herman from the Jam Factory. In that earlier post we mentioned also the influence of Stan Melis, who had been co-opted to the Jam Factory to bring his Slovakian industrial glass-making skills to the production side of the hot glass studio. Melis's own series of sea creatures is likely an inspiration for the next item.

Peter Goss 1987, 18.5cm long

The bottle shown below is a departure from the usual decoration associated with Peter Goss of coloured spots and midriff trails. From a series entitles "Spectrum", it explores the effects of light transmission through vessels that are only gently coloured but where a varying thickness of clear glass casing acts a random lens.

Peter Goss 1987 "Spectrum No 175", 11cm

The next item is instantly recognisable as the work of Peter Goss, because it has all of the familiar characteristics: the lower form in a simple geometric geometric shape, together with the coloured spots and extensive trails. It is also marked as the product of the new studio he operated from 1988 called Sunrise Studio Glass, after relocating to rural acreage on Sunrise Road, Timbeerwah. His old neighbours in the increasingly suburban Tewantin were surely pleased with the reduction in noise.

Peter Goss 1988, 13.5cm

It is impossible to live by the sea without feeling its influence. The next item bears the inscription "Shell form No 18", although we are not sure why. Perhaps it is the pearly lustre of the interior, more than the encircling golden trails?

Peter Goss 1989 "Shell form No 18", 13.5cm diameter (max)

As the final morsel in this extended tribute to the glass art of Peter Goss, we show one of the last items he made in glass. It is larger than most and still bears the price sticker for $108 from the original gallery sale in 1991.

Peter Goss 1991, 18.5cm diameter (max)

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Making his mark – The changing sign of Colin Heaney

The story of Colin Heaney’s glass making is well known. Born in Canada, growing up in California, he came to Australia attracted by the golden beaches and surf breaks. His approach in 1982 to a new interest in glass making was characteristic – he bought the gear and hired an expert from the US to set it up and give him some initial instruction. From then on he taught himself.

Located in Byron Bay, famous for its lighthouse, laid back lifestyle and surf culture, Heaney’s glass studio became the largest such operation in the country. It is said that 15 people were employed there at one stage. Through the 1980s and 1990s, almost everyone who was anyone in Australian (and New Zealand) studio glass worked there at one time or another.

Our interest today is not in the objects made by Colin Heaney, but instead in the way they are marked with the maker’s name or business name. The familiar signature is “C. Heaney” with a flourish so that the lower part of the C protrudes to become the cross member of the H and then extends wildly beyond. The rest of the signature is a lower parallel line, with barely a squiggle to describe the letters, until the final flourish of an enormous drop for the letter “y”.

In the earlier days of this "artistic" signature, there was more definition in the handwriting, as the following examples show. It is even possible to check the spelling in the second one (from 1988).

It is remarkable that Colin Heaney has dated all of these items as well as signing them. As we will see, he didn’t always do that in the very early days. By contrast, other glass artists who may once have dated their works have ceased to do so. As one practitioner explained it, some potential customers object to “old” works from a year or two previous and want to see “new” works from the current year. That was enough for him to cease the practice of dating his work. Apparently that was not Heaney’s experience.

For a period in the late 1980s and early 90s, much of the production output of Heaney’s studio was signed “CBHG”, standing for Cape Byron Hot Glass – not as sometimes guessed “Colin B Heaney Glass”! This form of studio mark serves several purposes. Often it distinguishes a lower form of production wares, with the artist’s own signature being reserved for more exalted exhibition pieces. More likely in this case, the practice acknowledges that the items may in fact be made by others, with the artist being the designer but not actually handling the work. Here are some examples (marked in different writer’s hands).

In addition to the engraved marks, either the personal signature or the studio mark, many items from Heaney’s studio had a small round gold coloured sticker attached. Here are a few examples, including one that sports a second larger sticker as well as the gold button and the familiar signature.

So, what of the early days? There are five years of Colin Heaney’s career 1983-1987 not illustrated in the images above. The shape of his natural handwriting can be seen in the example from 1988 in the fourth photo from the top, and in the earlier years it had even more of a schoolboy innocence to it. As we noted above, he often didn’t include the year with his signature on early works. Less surprising is the rougher engraving of the name, attributable to the rudimentary tools afforded by a beginner’s budget. Here are two such examples, showing all of these attributes:

Next is an unusual specimen and an exception to Heaney's customary form of signature on glass. It must be admitted that it suffers from the roughest of engraving tools being used on a rough iridized surface, but undoubtedly it is signed “Colin Heaney” with his name in full. The year appears to be 1987.

Colin Heaney ceased making glass in 2008 and sold the studio to Matthew Farrell. Since then, he has been designing silk scarves, bed linen and bikinis. Along with these new creative endeavours, his signature has been reinvented, as this example shows.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Peter Crisp – Glass, baked in the oven

The Hume Highway is the main thoroughfare joining Sydney to Melbourne and many places along the way. Between 1814 and 1825, the explorer Hamilton Hume lead many expeditions along this route and into the surrounding countryside. Among Hume’s great discoveries was the grazing country of the Yass Plain, where he settled after his exploration days were done and where he became a pioneer of the district’s great industry – superfine wool from merino sheep.

After you pass the town of Yass going south through the rolling hills of this pasture country, you will see a large sign announcing ‘The Crisp Galleries’ and inviting a visit. If that seems a trifle incongruous, the truth is even stranger. For 35 years, Peter Crisp has been both a wool grazier and a glass artist with a significant international reputation.

Peter Crisp, ‘royal bluebells’, each 12.5cm dia

The method of this glass artist is not the flamboyant performance of the hot-glass blower, nor the industrious concentration of the lampworker over an open flame. Instead, using a primary raw material that is basically window glass, together with coloured enamels and precious metals, Peter Crisp makes decorative and useful items by fusing and slumping the glass in an enclosed kiln heated by electricity. The basic techniques of this form of glass working are as old as the earliest days of ancient Egyptian glass, although nowadays they are aided by modern industrial technology.

The blue platter in the first photos below is large, with a diameter of 57cm. Note how the colours are fused between layers of what was once flat glass but which is now slumped into the shape of a shallow bowl. The central layer is composed of dozens of square tiles of the same material, with the black colour marking the lines between. The size alone of this item requires an industrial scale kiln.

Peter Crisp 2000, 57cm diameter

What sets this artist apart from the weekend warrior who is fusing and slumping glass in kilns at the adult education classes – apart from the scale of both the individual items and the production operation – are Peter Crisp’s artistic talent and his decades of hard-won experience in working the materials. There is also his experimental bravado, which has pioneered the way for many with lesser talents to follow. The little blue amphora below is much copied, although the originals are still immediately recognisable.

Peter Crisp 2000, 10cm diameter

This delicate object is made by placing circular glass sheets, with coloured enamel powder between, on a mould that has two levels. The upper part has a hole in the middle and supports the outer part of the material. When the glass is heated it melts to the extent that the middle part dribbles down to a lower level and pools to form a foot. The supported outer part stays behind but slumps to the surface shape of the upper mould.

Here is another piece, made on the same principles but much larger and more ambitious in complexity. There is much skill and experience in judging exactly the right temperature cycle and timing to achieve these effects without ruining the result.

Peter Crisp 1992, 31cm high

Next is the most elegant of them all, slumped into a very elongated vase shape, with various cut and fused small pieces to form the base, and decorated with sprinkles of 22ct gold and little dots of colour formed by melting glass beads.

Peter Crisp 1993, 19cm high

Other fused and slumped vessels made by Peter Crisp include a range of multi-layer bowls in various shapes and sizes, such as this one. Note again the decorative effect of including little tiles of glass as an intermediate layer.

Peter Crisp 1996, 21.5cm diameter

Peter Crisp is also known for his tableware decorated with screen-printed patterns, 22ct gold and semi-precious gems. The little shallow bowls with the royal bluebell design (Wahlenbergia gloriosa) at the top of this article are the simplest of such items. A more complex piece of a similar size is shown below. The glass beads have grown into jeweled hemispheres of jade and lapis luzuli embedded in the glass.

Peter Crisp, 12.5cm diameter

A proper piece of tableware is the dinner plate shown below in the design “Barneys”. There have been many such designs of gold encrusted dinner plates, side plates and bowls in Peter Crisp’s portfolio.

Peter Crisp 1994, 30cm diameter

The Crisp Galleries has a website where there is much for the visitor to explore. Two items that mark highlights of the artist’s career are the winning entry in a competition for drinkware to advertise Bombay Sapphire gin and the presentation dinner set commissioned for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Among the many other treasures on the website, don't miss the frothy concoctions in pate de verre.

Next time you are belting down the Hume, spare a thought for the old explorer Hamilton as you go past Yass, and make sure you allow time to visit the Crisp Galleries.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Helmut Hiebl of Murringo NSW

Murringo is a small village on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range about 300km WSW of Sydney.  At the 2006 Census the population of Murringo and the surrounding district was 322 souls. It boasts a couple of substantial churches (ambitions for population growth in the early days), a school, a village hall and a store – and that’s about it for physical infrastructure. For 30 years, the major tourist attraction was the studio and shop of glass artist Helmut Hiebl.

Helmut Hiebl was born in a small rural town in Austria in 1943. When he left school, he intended to work in ceramics but instead found a job in a local glass factory where he learnt the skill of glass blowing. From there he was recommended to a prestigious glass school in the Tyrol and learnt to engrave and decorate glass. After working in Germany as a designer and decorator for a few years, he returned to Austria where he had his own shop, engraving and decorating glass. His work came to the attention of the designers from the famous Steuben Glass works in Corning NY, and in 1972 he was offered a position as a glass engraver there, where he stayed for three years.

First studio of Helmut Hiebl, Murringo 1977-1982*

He migrated to Australia in 1976 with his wife and young son. They stayed at first with his brother, who had come to Australia in the 1950s and was then located in the inland NSW town of Young. Helmut and family moved shortly afterwards to Murringo, about 20km away, where he set up the engraving lathe that he had brought with him. Unable to source glass objects to decorate, he set upon building his own furnace to melt the raw materials, fashioning his own tools for blowing and shaping the molten glass, and employing his wife as the glassblower’s assistant. This first workshop was in a disused blacksmith’s shop made from vertical timber slab sides with corrugated iron gables and roof (see photo). Only the gleaming white gas tank brings this image into the 20th Century. This picturesque but ancient accommodation lasted until 1982, when he moved across the road to a more modern workshop attached to their house.

Helmut Hiebl at his engraving lathe*
The “new” glass blowing workshop, post 1982*

The glass works of Helmut Hiebl were sold mostly to tourists visiting the area, including those who came to the workshop to view the exciting spectacle of glassblowing, and to locals and visitors alike through a craft shop in Young. Some of his customers even sought him out in his rural hideaway to purchase his glass. His works tend to be smaller and less ambitious in scale than the output of artisans based in the big cities and the international tourist destinations of coastal Australia. But the integrity of their decoration sets them apart from the usual run of tourist ware.

The first items below come from the early days of the old workshop in the slab hut. Unusually for most of Hiebl’s output, two of them are marked with a year inscribed along with his usual signature of “H. Hiebl” with its characteristic leading serifs at the top of both capital Hs. The bottle has the fizz of tiny random bubbles common from rudimentary glass furnaces, although the coloured spots using powdered enamels are sophisticated. Remarkably the apple and small bird figures are both clear of the soda pop of bubbles seen in the bottle, suggesting either that control of the fizz was obtained fairly quickly or, possibly, that its presence in the bottle is deliberate.

Helmut Hiebl 1978, 14.5cm high
Helmut Hiebl 1979, 9.5cm high
Helmut Hiebl, 10cm long

Many works of Helmut Hiebl have an Old World charm about them, echoing the heyday of Bohemian decorated glass of the late 19th Century. Three such examples are the blue vessel with clear handles, the transparent green beer stein and the small but heavy vase with its sparse coloured spots. Note that these last two, as well as being immensely practical, are lightly engraved to add to their decoration. The stein unites the artist’s mid-European heritage with his reputed fondness for beer!

Helmut Hiebl, 17cm high
Helmut Hiebl, 11cm high
Helmut Hiebl, 12.5cm high

Once he established himself in deeply rural Australia, Helmut Hiebl never again travelled overseas and seldom ventured into the city. His identification with Australian life and his adventurous spirit in glass can be seen in the next two items. The large bowl is decorated mainly by acid etching the design in relief, a messy and dangerous process. The design incorporates the emblem flowers of three Australian states (red Waratah of NSW, Sturt’s Desert Pea of SA and the Cooktown orchid of Qld). There must be another matching bowl somewhere with the flowers of the other three states – please attach a reply if you know where.

Helmut Hiebl, 20cm diameter

The small panels below are engraved with three of the more emblematic of Australian creatures (after the kangaroo and emu of the Commonwealth coat of arms). The detail in the engraved images is amazing for such tiny working spaces.

Helmut Hiebl, three engraved panels 13cm high

Murringo lost its favourite adopted son when Helmut Hiebl died in early 2013 after a long illness that had prevented him from working for years. The regard in which he was held locally can be judged from the obituary in the village newsletter Our Murringo Matters (see pages 8). Murringo might be a small place physically, but a glance through that newsletter reveals a flourishing rural community, which for more than three decades hosted one of the most interesting characters in Australian glass.

* Thanks to Helmut Hiebl’s family for permission to use these three photographs.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Thanks for all the fish

Nature presents such an amazing range of shapes and colours (to say nothing of behaviours) that it is impossible for a curious person not to be attracted. The challenge of capturing some part of that brilliance and storing it in a painting or sculpture must be hard to resist for those with the talent to do so. At the same time, the artist has to live – however meagerly – and nothing will separate the punters from their money better than some new kitsch for the pool room.

The world of glass animals is amazingly diverse and ranges from high art to dull mass production (and we are not talking here of an English indie rock band). The form is as old as the earliest discoveries of ancient glass, and as new as the hundreds of cheap Chinese knock-offs that grace the pages of ebay. There are at least two serious books, hardcover and large-format, on the subject of animals made in glass.

Australia’s populace clings close to the coastline, so it is not surprising that many artists in glass are similarly located. And it is not surprising that when they take inspiration from nature, they often turn to the sea and the creatures within it. The glass fish on this page are made by identifiable professional artists. Some are famous (including a couple of multiple finalists in the Ranamok Glass Prize), while others have enjoyed long careers in glass without much publicity or recognition from the critics. Still others started in glass artistry, only to move on fairly soon to other ways of making a living.

We start with a magnificent specimen of the artist’s imagination by John Lloyd and Geoff Murray. After working at Colin Heaney’s operation in Byron Bay, for a time from 1995 they operated a studio called “Lloyd Murray Glass” at Talofa on the road between Byron and Bangalow in northern NSW.

John Lloyd and Geoff Murray (NSW), undated

To head off any pedantry, I should note in advance that a dolphin is a mammal not a fish. But that is no excuse for excluding a work by the master of taking inspiration from the ocean, Colin Heaney.

Colin Heaney (NSW), 1993

The Sunshine Coast area north of Brisbane has housed a cluster of glass artists, at different times working in various business models and at various locations. These two specimens by Lucas Salton owe more to the Siamese fighting fish than anything living in the ocean nearby. Items such as these were regularly sold at the burgeoning Eumundi markets in the hinterland of Noosa Heads.

Lucas Salton (Qld), undated

Some glass artists have located themselves well away from major population centres. I suspect that decision reduced their turnover even more than it economised on the rent (or the distractions, or whatever induced the decision), but here are two outlying artists represented by their fish. Moshe Pleshet set up a glass blowing studio at Wyaldra near Mudgee in NSW in 1979 and made this specimen a year later. John Anthony was located near Airlie Beach in Queensland, although little more is known about him.

Moshe Pleshette (NSW), 1980
John Anthony (Qld), undated

South Australia has at least its share of makers of glass fish. Eamonn Vereker is perhaps the state’s best-known exponent of glass animals including fish, although we have not represented his output here.

With an impeccable artistic education in glass and considerable attention from the critics, Tim Shaw must regard his transplantation from the UK to the Adelaide Hills a success. Along the way, he made the gaping piscatorial specimen below.

Meg Caslake and David Pedler also operate a studio in the Adelaide Hills. I don’t know for sure that the clear glass starfish is theirs, but it seems of a kind with their other cast glass objects, including sea creatures. It was probably marked with a cellophane sticker that has since washed off in the ocean.

Bernard Stonor of Kangaroo Island spent 20 years making colourful objects from hot furnace glass before moving to lampwork in recent years. This flat-sided fish looks positively happy and clearly dates from the earlier part of his career.

Tim Shaw (SA), undated
Meg Caslake and David Pedler (SA), undated
Bernard Stonor (SA), undated

Another exponent of small animals in glass is James Dodson of Tasmania. His birds are particularly colourful, but here are two of his fish, looking angelic.

James Dodson (Tas), undated

To all these glass artists, we say: So long, and thanks for all the fish.