South African Glass – The art and societies from my perspective

It was in 2003 that I went to the USA, to experience Pilchuck and my first Glass Art Society conference in Seattle. I was blown away!

All fired up and inspired by the camaraderie within this international glass community gathering in the Pacific North West I returned to Pretoria with a million ideas in my head. How can we make this magic happen in our neck of the woods?

As luck would have it, Dr. Ingram Anderson (a rheumatoid arthritis specialist and avid glass collector) and myself met and fired up a conversation on our local fledgling glass community. We were both of similar opinion; to enable a platform where artists, enthusiasts and collectors could converge. The idea was to grow our local industry, as small as it was.

Our conversations grew, inviting other artists and collaborators within the arts and especially the glass scene here in South Africa.

After much deliberation, in 2004, the South African Glass Art Society (SAGAS) was born as a non-profit organisation “to promote and foster the appreciation of Glass Art in Southern Africa.” The initial SAGAS board members were Dr. Ingram Anderson (Chairman), Ian Redelinghuys, Retief van Wyk, Maxi Pretorius, Jakkals Pretorius, Gordon Froud and myself, Lothar Böttcher as coordinator.

 

Our first national exhibition was hosted at the Gordart Gallery, in Melville, Johannesburg later that year. It was during July as I still recall my daughter, Lilo, being born on the 1st of July, sleeping in Gordon’s office, only a few days old…

The show was a resounding success. Sales were good and the overall vibe was positive with many conversations about South African glass and its future.

The scene was set… for the following year’s event.

In 2005 SAGAS moved to the Western Cape. More specifically Cape Town, Worcester and Paarl, with an exhibition even in Stellenbosch at the Dorp Straat Gallery.

Lorna Reade coordinated the gathering and did an astounding job with several venues and events planned during the Festival of Glass. We exhibited work at the Jean Welz Gallery in Worcester where David Reade also has his studio. David hosted open days working with students from TUT, who actually came down from Pretoria to attend.

Lorna also organised a show of glass at the Irma Stern Museum, which is part administered by the University of Cape Town.

We visited Red Hot Glass just outside Paarl on The Spice Route Farm overlooking wine lands.

Nelius Britz recently opened the Edge Glass Gallery and formed part of the SAGAS festival with a wonderful opening night in downtown Cape Town. The Edge Glass Gallery, which is part of the Cape Glass Studio, is still the only dedicated Glass Gallery in sub-Saharan Africa.

We went to visit Shirley Cloete at her estate Morgenster in Somerset West. She is considered the doyen of SA glass, collaborating with David Reade and Gary Thompson in the 1980’s and later having her own studio from where she worked for many years.

The 2005 Festival of Glass in the Cape was a seminal moment for our fledgling glass community.

After the grand scale of the 2005 glass festival things became difficult. Committee members had professional commitments and funding for the organisation was stagnant. This is particularly difficult for a fledgling non-profit.

In 2006 SAGAS was disbanded. We could simply not continue with an altruistic ideal of a glass community without funding or sponsorship – also running the day to day management, newsletters and organising… – as professionals ourselves, working for a living.

Ten years later, in 2016, Dr. Anderson and myself curated a national glass exhibition at the Association of Arts, Pretoria. This exhibition, titled Out of the Fire, Into the Light, brought artists working with glass from all over South Africa back under one roof.

This year we did it again, on a smaller scale though. Back to the Future – Contemporary Glass Inspired by the Past opened on the 28th of September at the Association of Arts and invited artists working with, and using glass in their creative narrative from Pretoria.

In the introduction for the show I wrote: “Pretoria is a proverbial melting pot for creative glass.” With the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the only academic institution on the continent offering glass as a major subject in their Fine Arts Department we truly are at the source of contemporary glass in South Africa.

The exhibition presented mostly graduates from TUT’s glass department over the past 24 years, myself included. The artists who participated were:

  • Olwethu de Vos
  • Gordon Froud
  • Caitlin Greenberg
  • Mike Hyam
  • Martli Jansen van Rensburg
  • Thabang Monoa
  • Kgotso Pati
  • Maxi Pretorius
  • Ian Redelinghuys
  • Liesl Roos
  • Nicole Rowe
  • Mbali Tshabalala
  • Diane Victor
  • Retief van Wyk
  • Marileen van Wyk
  • Berco Wilsenach
  • Lothar Böttcher

A comprehensive catalogue of the works with artist statements is available here.

It is my hope that our conversation of glass continues with many more ventures and adventures, growing a sustainable industry within an African narrative.

One thing I have learned from the international glass community is that it is a family with weird cousins, uncles and aunts, some might be scary and others timid or bombastic, everyone differently unique but all are giving, supportive and believe in the magic of glass and its future.

 

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