Last month I had the pleasure of another meeting with Sam Herman, who is arguably the greatest name in British studio glass - and pretty darned important in the global studio glass movement too. Unfairly in my mind at least, few recognise his incredible vision, abilities and importance. Without him, studio glass techniques would not and could not have spread to the UK and beyond. Sam studied at the University of Wisconsin under Harvey Littleton who, with Dominick Labino, sowed the seeds of the movement in the early 1960s. In late 1966, Sam came to the UK on a scholarship and ended up taking over as Head of the Glass Department at the Royal College of Art. His predecessor, Michael Harris, had been bitten by the studio glass bug and left for Malta to found Mdina Glass in 1968 - the rest is history, so read my book. Sam went on to found the influential 'Glasshouse' in London, and work and teach in Australia. He also taught the first generation of Britain's studio glass artists.The event was a dedicated retrospective organised by my friend Adam Aaronson at his superb Zest Gallery in West London. Including new work by the hand of the master himself, a selection of 'vintage' pieces, dating as far back as the early days at the Royal College of Art. As ever, the conversation with Sam was both incredibly enlightening and enormous fun. For a review of the exhibition and my interview, see the next edition of Collect It! magazine.
It's funny who you meet in this industry, and how easy it is to make friends. Wandering around the now (sadly) defunct Alexandra Palace antiques and collectables fair in north London last year, I came across the most wonderful stall that contained all sorts of modern treasures as well as some rather lovely Fat Lava vases. My interest was caught. Chatting to the Dutch owners, it soon became clear that they were keen and experts in their area - as well as being lovely people. We've kept in touch and now they tell me that they have launched a new website specialising in these amazing vases. Visit Fat-Lava.com - NOW! We're all responsible for promoting this much ignored area, and bringing to it the attention it deserves. Dianne and Rene join the ranks of the forward-thinking, along with Petra & Patrick of Outernational, Forrest of Ginforsodditiques and, I am sure, many more to come. Come on, you know you have the room for just one more vase...or maybe two. Oh, go on then, what's another to make it three...
Yesterday, at the rather marvellous Woolley & Wallis salerooms in Wiltshire, a new world record was paid for a piece of Mdina at auction. Lot 169, the Mdina 'Crizzle Stone' shown below, fetched a staggering £950 - over £1,100 including buyer's premium. Whilst this isn't quite as much as the £1,564 paid for a large Mdina 'Fish' signed by Michael Harris on eBay.de in March (see below), it is important as it's the highest price paid for a piece of Mdina in a traditional auction room environment. For those of you who haven't read my book, the Crizzle Stone represents the apotheosis of Harris' hallmark Fish design, and the highly complex, time-consuming techniques behind its creation. Furthermore, having researched and closely watched this area for over five years now, I am only aware of four other examples. Two of those are in a private collection related to the Harris family - primarily as they were only made towards the end of the four years that he ran Mdina Glass. Add to that the facts that Michael Harris was the only glassmaker with enough skill to make them, and the fact that they were very expensive at the time, meaning few were made and sold, and you have a considerable and desirable rarity. As to the identity of the buyer, he or she has been revealed simply as a 'private European glass collector'. Whether it's the first piece in a new collection, or else the crowning glory of an existing collection, it arguably represents one of the best and rarest designs ever produced by Michael Harris. With thanks to Michael Jeffrey of Woolley & Wallis.
Wandering around glass fairs, as is my want, reveals the diversity of the exciting world of contemporary glass. Whilst glassmaking is a costly and time-consuming activity, often making many pieces expensive, there can be a few affordable surprises. One of them is the work of recent glass graduate Sarah Cable. The piece below is typical of her work, which I think is fresh, innovative, colourful - and great fun. Based on memories of housewives leaning over garden fences exchanging a natter in a very Beryl Cook like manner, these striking vases are available in different sizes, colours and patterns. Each piece is individually hand blown in brightly coloured glass, before being cased all-over in dark glass, which is made opaque and iridescent by fuming it with chemicals. Areas in the desired pattern are then masked off, and the remaining areas sandblasted away by hand to reveal the underlying coloured glass. Finally, small, contrastingly coloured 'petals' are added to the neck of the vase, like an opening flower. This particular example is made all the more special as the glass is graduated from peach to yellow from the base upwards. At an affordable £40 for a visually impressive size, I'm sure you'll agree that it certainly beats derivative factory-made glass from the likes of Habitat and Ikea! However, I'm not sure about the nattering old ladies, as to me they look some form of pod-like plant or flower from an alien world - an effect that is accentuated when they're grouped together. Fantastic! If you'd like to know more, or buy one, contact Michelle Guzy on 01785 249 802, or visit her at one of the many glass fairs she stands at. Having spoken to Michelle only recently, there are some pretty whacky and creative new designs on the way - I think Ms Cable has a long way to go, so I'd snap one up before her fame (and prices) rise!
It's often amazing what crops up on eBay.de. Earlier this month I found a rather superb Ruscha bull, in the desirable 'Vulcano' glaze. According to Petra & Patrick Folkersma of Outernational, Ruscha made a small number of animals in the 1960s, including an elephant which was the earliest example made. The bull was made in four sizes, and this is the second largest at just over 12.5in (32cm) in length. They are known in a number of glazes produced by the company, but 'Vulcano' is one of the most desirable. All I can say is that if you see one, buy it! They were pretty expensive at the time, and not as useable as a vase. As a result, comparatively few were sold, and very few of these survived due to their fragility. They are moulded in one part, and the protruding horns in particular are very susceptible to damage. Furthermore, as the mould was one piece and complex in form, the liquid clay is often very thin in areas, so the slightest knock can create a hole. Think of an Easter egg! Outernational sell these very rare pieces in a white glaze for over $200, but I think that they have a long way to go value wise. They also break up the monotony of vases and bowls, and look rather magnificent on display. They also follow in the tradition of 'postwar bulls', as a number of potteries across Europe and the UK made stylised examples. Anyway, here he is - sorry if my excitement meant that my camera work is a little shakey!
For those of you who treat buying antiques and collectables somewhat like the stock market, here's something you will be interested in. Today, a large Mdina 'Fish' vase designed by Michael Harris, and also signed by him, sold for a staggering £1,564 on eBay.de! A couple of years ago, this would have probably fetched around £200, and the rise clearly shows the increasing recognition being paid to Harris and his work. Those of you who have read my book will know how rare large 'Fish' vases are, particularly those from the period when Harris ran the company. To find an example that is signed by him is even rarer! I think that the lucky buyer, whoever they are, owns a real treasure of 20thC studio glass. I also think that this is indicative of the price rises that lie ahead as more people reassess his contribution and start to collect. Do we rate this area as a strong BUY? If we do, get in early - you have been warned!
I've just got back from a working and (thankfully, latterly) pleasure weekend in Berlin. The results of my Fat Lava this time hunt were rather surprising! I found one design shop in trendy Mitte where they actually had a selection of Fat Lava on display in their vintage design section. This is the first time I have ever seen a proper display in a shop in Germany. Amazingly, the pieces were generally too expensive for me to buy, ranging from 50 to 90 euros, and upwards. I know this isn't too much all told, but it's more than I am used to paying and more than I am used to seeing them priced at, particularly in Germany. It was interesting to see that the staff was comprised mainly of young people, as were many of the customers. I showed them my bookalogue and asked what they thought of the pots themselves and, for once, got a highly positive response. They loved the wild colours! Maybe the new generation is finally waking up to Fat Lava, perhaps as they don't remember them being so dreadful and indicative of the 1960s and 70s as their parents do. Furthermore, Marita, the lady who sold me a large Fat Lava sgraffito horse vase from her vintage clothing shop off FriedrichStrasse, said that she knew something was going on in the area because two English guys came in two weeks before and bought as much as they could carry! I wonder what they got? However, despite this positivism from the trendier, more avant garde end of the market in Mitte, I did get an utterly horrified gasp when I asked for Fat Lava in the main antiques and collectables centre, 'Why on EARTH would you want that? Do you really think we would sell such things?!'" Honestly, the Luddites.....!
New year's resolutions, and all that, have finally pushed me to scan and post a couple of press articles from 2006 that may interest you. They just go to show how both West German ceramics and Mdina and Isle of Wight Studio Glass are spreading, and generally becoming more notable and noteworthy subjects. Some national newspapers have even taken notice - the Financial Times (below) and Guardian included! If you go to the 'In The Media' page under either Fat Lava or Michael Harrisin the menu on the left of my website, or click on those links, you'll be able to see each of them.
Firstly, happy new year to one and all. The first new news of the year is that, at last, Dr Horst Makus' landmark publication 'Keramik der 50er Jahre' (Ceramics of the 1950s) has been re-released. It was last published in 1998 and has become increasingly impossible to find over the last 9 years. My gap-filling copy has just come through from my local book shop, and I would certainly recommend getting hold of one yourselves. It is nothing less than excellent, thoroughly comprehensive and unbelievably good value at $75 or £45. You can find it at the publisher's website - www.arnoldsche.de. Do bear in mind that the text is in German, however - but it is still without doubt a 'must-have'. On that note, if you don't know about it already, also check out the wonderful book on 1960s-70s West German Ceramics published in the middle of last year by prolific collector and expert M.P. Thomas, in Germany. It is in German again, but still well worth having. After all, a picture speak a thousand words! It also includes a large section on the influential German studio potter Schaffenacker, which is unique in its scope to my knowledge. You can find a link to the author's website by clicking here.