Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Perfume bottles as decorative arts

The history of glass perfume bottles is as old as the history of glass itself. Four thousand years ago or more, the Egyptians used unguents and potions for various religious and earthly purposes. The earliest known containers were made from wood, stone and metal, but soon the advantages of glass became apparent. Not only is it impervious to most fluids, this material is easily shaped when hot and it can be brightly coloured as decoration.

The retail packaging of perfumes today is intricate and attractive, as befits a high-value product that is consumed over time and usually kept handy in full view. But commercial bottles are mostly machine-made in mass production of thousands of identical items. We are interested instead in hand-made examples of the decorative arts where the practical purpose may be largely lost. (How many people would have bought a vase from Gallé or Tiffany, intending to fill it with flowers and water?) Many Australian glass artists have made decorative perfume bottles. Here are a few:

Alan Fox, Keith Rowe, Lucas Salton, Ann Hand, Martini Glass (Tina Cooper and Mark Galton).

Ian Johnstone, Gerry Reilly, Ann Clifton, Pauline Delaney, Stephen Morris.

In case it might be thought that making decorated perfume bottles is girly business, note that seven of the eleven artists represented in these pictures are blokes. There is more evidence on that score below. 

It is perhaps fitting that the two leading makers of decorative perfume bottles in Australia today are based in a part of the country that is itself small and beautiful – Tasmania. Tony Trivett and Richard Clements make their creations by lampwork, using borosilicate (Pyrex) tubing and rods, and formed in a burner and coloured with metal oxides. By contrast, all of the items in the above two pictures are made by taking a gather of hot molten glass from a pot or tank in a furnace and blowing a bubble.

Tony Trivett, 6 bottles.

Richard Clements, 7 small bottles mostly from the 1980s and 1990s.

Observe again, both of these artists are men – as is another prolific maker, Michael Hook.

For those who collect older bottles from second hand markets, there is always the risk that stoppers will be chipped, broken or missing. The glass-to-glass action of inserting the stopper brings particular risks of damage, as does the transport of bottles with the stoppers in. Stoppers can be dropped to the floor or jammed in too tight, and the extra leverage due to an elongated stopper makes the whole package vulnerable to breakage. The other risk is the seller who describes the item as a ‘bud vase’. Look for an opening that is precisely round with grinding down the throat where it has been bored out to fit a stopper. It is no surprise then that most collections will include bottles that are missing their matching stoppers, like these:

Tricia Allen, Greg Royer, Matt Bryce and Kent LeGrand, Peter Goss, Ryu?, anon.

Australians produce hand made bottles in an amazing array of sizes, styles and colours. Here are a few by female artists:

Kath Sinkora, Kylie Neilson, Cathy Jordan, Maureen Williams, Eileen Gordon and Jemma Clements.

Perfume bottles are readily collectable because they are small and elegant, and they don’t take up much space. But don’t think these are trivial objects in the world of decorative arts. In February 2009, Christies of London sold a 1927 bottle by the Frenchman Maurice Marinot for a cool 51,400 Euros – that’s about $65,000!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Anne Dybka (before she was famous)

Anne Dybka OAM (1922-2007) was arguably Australia's most accomplished engraver on glass. Auction houses typically introduce her work like this: 

Anne Dybka was a well respected, internationally renowned glass engraver. A fellow of London's Guild of Glass Engravers, she engraved crystal for Orrefors, Baccaret and Lalique. She worked in the Rocks, Sydney. Her work is held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and the Glasmuseum, Ebeltoft, Denmark.

That description fails to convey the exquisite detail of her depictions of Australia's flora and fauna and other national symbols. Also missing is her leadership in training another generation of glass artists, as reflected in the readily available CVs of Paddy Robinson, Miki Kubo and Rozlyn de Bussey, among others.

But what was she doing before she was a celebrated glass engraver? The passage quoted above comes originally from the online record of the National Library of Australia. The NLA also mentions her professional life in the 1960s and 70s when she worked for Old Chelsea Glassware in Melbourne and later for Crown Crystal Glass in Sydney. Her role in both places included designing decoration for screen printing onto elegantly shaped drinking glasses (usually imported from Czechoslovakia) and hand painting transfers to decorate ceramics. At Crown Crystal she also started engraving on glass.

The range of her decorative subject matter at this time was wide, reflecting both the utility of the vessels and the exotic fantasy they might have brought to social life in the 1960s and 70s. While flamingos and strawberries come from the Old World, the gum blossoms and lyrebirds are leading indicators of her later engraved work that captures the beauty of Australia’s plants and animals.  

Unusually perhaps for the time and place, she included a signature in many of her designs. The stylized bird with prominent signature - seen here on a tall cylindrical vase - is a recurring motif that can be spotted today on various ceramic shapes in ‘antiques’ shops and online auctions.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Peter Goss - glass art in the Sunshine State

Peter Goss is celebrated as the first studio glass artist to set up in Queensland. He established a studio at Tewantin (just up the river from the beach resort of Noosa Heads) in 1981 and has been the 'grandfather' of the extensive glass artist community in the Sunshine Coast region. His influences include helping set up Chris Pantano outside Nambour as the second glass artist in Queensland in 1986 and performing the opening ceremony for the Sunshine Coast Hot Glass Studio in Yandina for Jonathon Westacott and Greg Royer in 2004 (both operations since closed).

Peter Goss served in the Royal Marines 1964-1973, including active service in Borneo. He trained at the Jam Factory glass workshop in Adelaide 1975-1977 with Sam Herman and later Stan Melis as workshop leaders and with other trainees who were to become household names in Australian art glass.

From left, Rob Knottenbelt, Peter Goss, Stan Melis, John Walsh and Tom Persson

After completing his traineeship, he worked both as an independent artist at the Jam Factory and in Sam Herman's studio there. An example of his work from that time, inscribed "Peter Goss 77, SA2, SJ Herman Glass Studio" is shown below.

Peter Goss 1977 15cm

Peter Goss moved to Queensland in 1979 and set up his Paraison Glass Studio at Tewantin two years later. To quote Glenn R. Cooke writing in Craft Arts magazine in 1989, 

His early works ... reflect the influence of Sam Herman but his more recent concentration on forms inspired by sea life has parallels with that of his other teacher, Stan Melis.

Here is a glorious example of the latter kind, inscribed "Peter Goss, Shell Form, PSG 1223/86":

Peter Goss 1986 15cm

He became ill and closed the business in 1991 and worked in the food industry in the region, variously as human resources manager, safety officer and product quality manager. First he was at the famous Buderim Ginger Factory, which by then was located not in Buderim but 23km away in Yandina, coincidentally in the same street that the Sunshine Coast hot glass studio later operated (although in Yandina, pop. 4000, there are not too many other streets to choose from!). In a further coincidence, the old ginger factory building in Buderim was later converted by the state government into a craft centre, opening in 1991 and featuring a hot glass studio which housed Chuck and Lesley Simpson, Lucas Salton, Martini Glass (Mark Galton and Tina Cooper) and others. A business directory shows Peter Goss working for a subsidiary company of Buderim Ginger as late as September 2009. 

Several themes developed in the work of Peter Goss. One characteristic is the overall shape, wider at the shoulder than at the base, with the lower body geometric (often square or hexagonal) and the upper body rounded. The colourful spots, where the bubble is rolled onto chips of glass, is a frequent decoration, as are the dribbled on trails that are only partly marvered into the parent material. An example below of his later work from 1991 shows many of these characteristics.

Peter Goss 1991 16.5cm

Just for fun, here are a few more examples:

Peter Goss 1982 12cm
Peter Goss 1984 29cm
Peter Goss 1985 17.5cm
Peter Goss 1987 17cm