Thursday, July 1, 2010


Located in the Hauraki Gulf, close to Auckland, New Zealand, is the lush Rangitoto Island, which is actually a young volcano. With plenty of hiking and walking trails, it is easy to explore the unique and beautiful landscape. New Zealand is also home to featured jewelry designer Te Rongo Kirkwood.

Based on my research, small glassworks studios existed in New Zealand as far back as the mid-19th century. Unfortunately, however, no records were kept showing their level of productivity.

Nevertheless, roughly about 90 years ago, the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company not only exported glassware to New Zealand but also established a bottle works business there that still exists to this day but the company moniker has since changed.

In the years to follow, many up-and-coming New Zealand artists practice the art of cultivating glass into functional, as well as decorative items.

Of Maori descent, 37-year-old Kirkwood first emerged in the art world during her teen years. An accomplished painter, her work fueled eager commission requests of which the jewelry artist shied away.

In 1996, at age 23, Kirkwood relocated to the United Kingdom where she would live for eleven years. Upon receiving a post-graduate qualification in human resource management, from England's De Montfort University, Kirkwood traded in her canvas and palette as she stepped into the corporate world as a Human Resource Manager.

As fate would have it, while living in London Kirkwood saw the work of American glass sculptor Danny Lane. The experience whets her appetite for the art form. "Danny's work had a truly profound impact on me.

He did massive architectural sculptures with blown glass. I had never considered glass as an artistic medium until I saw his work; I knew right away that at some point, I would work with glass."

About three years later, having had her fill of the corporate rat race, Kirkwood returned to New Zealand to immerse herself once again in the arts. Now a mother of two toddlers, obtaining a formal education to learn glass sculpting was inconvenient. She opted instead to teach herself at her own pace.

"My work is mainly fused and slumped glass. I find this process enables me to realize my designs most of which are influenced by my Maori and New Zealand heritage combined with inspiration drawn from a sense of connection to the land, bush and sea."

Using a kiln, Kirkwood sculpts classic outlines of geometric forms from various hues of glass that brings to mind smooth pieces of rock candy. You can even see the tiny air bubbles inside the glass.

The subtle proportions are given intrigue and mystery through Kirkwood's incorporation of lyrical Maori motifs. Her creation process is bound to the designer's personal transitions and life force.

"My desire is to create work that reflects both the innate beauty of the glass as well as a sense of my emotion and spirit," she says.

"I use glasswork as a way to express my perspective and lessons I am going through at the moment. The work is always changing because I am constantly changing as a person. I use colors like red and black to reference my shadow self--that other side."

Kirkwood's beautiful glasswork has received recognition in Australia, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand.

Following in the footsteps of Danny Lane, last year she was commissioned by the Waitakere City Council to create a public glass sculpture.

"It was such a thrill to see Danny's work and to see what can be achieved architecturally. Glass has enormous structural potential."
Photo 1 (top right): Fused Glass Circle of Life Pendant
Photo 2 (bottom left): Fused Glass Life Blood Adize Blade Pendant
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