Spirit of Adventure

Sometimes it’s just purely invigorating to do something completely new. Well, new in the sense that I’ve made it to a hotshop to develop a brand new line of work I’ve been dreaming of for years.

Thanks to Smelt Glass Studio, which recently moved to Victoria Yards in Johannesburg, these dreams are becoming reality. Like many big city glass communities, such as in the USA, we have slowly been growing into a collaborative clique of glass makers, artists and artisans.

Don’t get me wrong, we are only a handful of diehard believers in the power of glass.

This medium presents so many challenges. Over and above the technical aspects – specialised tools, skill sets honed over years and decades, and the diversity of the medium itself – there is the market.

The South African demand for “glass art” is relatively small. Its fragile nature, overall expense compared to other types of sculpture or two dimensional works and small group of appreciators makes for a difficult market. But years of tenacious participation in the local art scene are bearing fruit.

Africa has few glass blowing studios and even fewer cold shops. I can’t speak for beads/flamework and kilnwork, but would wager that the latter has a considerable following due to the tooling (kilns, etc.) being closely related to ceramics and availability of compatible materials such as Bulls Eye Glass locally.

I am specifically speaking about the professional fine art space here, where narrative and creative vernacular is represented within an art gallery environment.

There are two institutions in South Africa that offer degree courses in glass – Tshwane University of Technology and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Guateng has a vibrant glass scene. TUT in Pretoria offers glass as a full time graduate course and has been going since 1994 (when David Reade helped to build our first furnace and I got sucked into this vitreous world…). This is where I was bitten by the “glass bug” and haven’t looked back since.

On the contrary, I see much potential for the future of glass in SA and beyond.

With such a small market segment competition is limited. Everybody knows everybody and many circles cross over to others.

Unfortunately the economic climate post 2008 has placed strain on the momentum of development. This stymies growth but also innovation as “taking risks” is too risky on our rickety boat.

Desperate times… as they say. In 2014 Blow Your Sculpture popped onto the Pretoria art scene. Inspired by the collaborative nature of Cool Capital’s first iteration, Blow Your Sculpture aimed at crossing the divide between sculpture and the perceived “craftiness” of glass. Local sculptors, artists and designers were invited to produce a plaster mould in which glass was blown.

Blow Your Sculpture launches it’s third wave of a contemporary glass narrative this May, culminating with an exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in March/April 2019.

With so many irons in the fire and deadlines looming its time to get back to the studio…

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