Born in Melbourne and based in Adelaide, Australia, artist Clare Belfrage has maintained a distinguished glassblowing practice for over 30 years. Detailed and complex glass drawings on blown glass forms reflect the high-level skill and mastery of the craft that makes her one of the country’s most renowned artists in this medium. Inspired by nature and its various rhythms and energies, Belfrage’s exquisite sculptural objects express her fine attention to detail and interest in the minutiae of the natural world.
Belfrage states: “As an artist, my point of view is often looking from close up. The big feeling that ‘small’ gives me is intimate and powerful. The industry in nature, its rhythm and energy, dramatic and delicate still holds my fascination as does the language and processes of glass.”
With a long involvement in education, Belfrage has lectured in the glass programs at the University of South Australia, Ohio State University and Curtin University, Western Australia. A founding member of blue pony studio in Adelaide, Belfrage played the pivotal role of Creative Director at Canberra Glassworks from 2009 to 2013. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of South Australia and has taught numerous workshops throughout Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.
Belfrage’s work is represented in major public collections including: most of the Australian State Gallery collections, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Museum of Arts and Sciences, Sydney, National Art Glass Collection, Wagga Wagga, Corning Museum of Glass, Peabody Essex Museum, Tacoma Museum of Glass and Toledo Museum of Art, USA, Ebeltoft Glass Museum, Denmark, Ernsting Stifltung Glass Museum, Germany, Castello Sforzesco Museum, Italy, Museo do Vidro, Marinha Grande, Portugal and Niijima Glass Museum, Japan.
In addition to Australia, Belfrage exhibits regularly in North America, Europe, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Her work was recognized for its innovation and originality in 2005 and 2011 with the Tom Malone Glass Prize presented by the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In 2016, the artist was awarded the inaugural FUSE Glass Prize for Australian and New Zealand glass and in 2018 was selected as the South Australian Living Artist Festival feature artist, becoming the subject of the festival’s annual monograph, Rhythms of Necessity, written by Kay Lawrence and Sera Waters. She was also named JamFactory Icon of 2018, presenting a solo exhibition for a three-year national tour.
With rounded corners and soothing pastel hues, Belfrage’s uniquely shaped pieces stand out for their delicate patterns drifting over organic forms. Each of these ethereal designs is “drawn” with glass stringers. The sandblasted and pumiced surface creates a satin finish that really helps to draw the viewer into the layers of pattern, which is quite different from what a reflective surface does. Grids made of softly curving white lines, circular slices, and strips of different colors are just a few of the ways she covers her sculptures. The mesmerizing blueprints contrast the pure simplicity of the sculptural shape, which in turn creates visual depth. Although the artist plans carefully and there is a lot of preparation that goes into each piece, she works consciously with the fluid nature of the material and process so the pattern stretches, softens, and opens up – an important aspect of the final piece.
She told Modern Met: “When absorbed by the natural world, the enduring inspiration for my work, part of my experience of wonder is the contemplation of Time – the way Time is described, measured, and held. It can feel frozen or captured, it can feel sped up, dense with energy, it can feel fleeting, and it can feel endless. The rhythms within the natural world that I observe and work to bring into my making, mark out movement through Time, evidence of the life that is lived, expressing growth, aging, shedding, mapping and binding.”
Belfrage is currently completing a two-week residency at the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, NSW, Australia, which will result in a solo exhibition to take place in August 2023. She will be exhibiting with Adrian Sassoon Gallery at the art fair, PAD London Design + Art 2022, October 11 – 16 in Berkeley Square, London, and with Sandra Ainsley Gallery in Toronto from October 27 – 30, 2022. Belfrage will also participate in a three-week residency followed by a solo exhibition at Soneva Fushi Art Glass in the Maldives in December 2022.
Renowned artist and designer Helen Whittaker is highly regarded for her new stained glass windows and architectural sculpture in glass and copper. With an aim to engage the viewer through good design and craftsmanship, the artist creates energy and movement intertwining contemporary and traditional elements. Her designs are inspired by the client, the brief and the building, whether housed in historic or modern buildings, in ecclesiastical or secular contexts. As Creative Director at the highly acclaimed Barley Studio in York, Whittaker heads a multi-skilled team alongside Managing Director Keith Barley MBE.
Whittaker earned her MA in Visual, Islamic and Traditional Arts from the University of Wales, from her studies at the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture. Her BA, with a specialism in three-dimensional design using glass and ceramics, is from the University of Sunderland, a Centre of Excellence and the largest glass and ceramics department in Europe.
With 25 years of experience in stained glass creation and restoration painting, Whittaker has completed at least 100 commissions across the UK. In the summer of 2018, one of her stained glass windows was displayed in Buckingham Palace. Recently Whittaker collaborated with David Hockney for his art work in Westminster Abbey, The Queen’s Window and was featured in a BBC documentary about the window. One of her pieces of art, commemorating The Role of Women in the Royal Air Force was formally unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
A Craft Scholar of the Prince’s Foundation, Whittaker has received the prestigious Hancock Medal for High Achievement. She has won several awards (including a commission) through the highly competitive Stevens Competition, and more recently has acted as judge and Chairman of the Judges. Whittaker is a Fellow of the British Society of Master Glass Painters and a Court Member (the executive body) of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers, a leading Livery Company of the City of London, whose existence was first recorded in 1328. She presented the Stained Glass Museum 2020 Annual Lecture, has given a Ted Talk and recently addressed the Art workers Guild in London.
ToYG podcast was able to speak with Whittaker in between her work on current projects for All Saints Church, Wetheringsett cum Brockford, Suffolk, and Lily Chapel, Manila, Philippines.
Richard Royal, a native of the Northwest, has become recognized internationally as one of the most skilled and talented glassblowers in the Studio Glass movement. Bodies of work such as his early Diamond Cut series to the more recent Geometrics are the hallmarks of his successful career in glass. The artist began working as a glass sculptor in 1978 at the Pilchuck Glass School, located north of Seattle. After spending a number of years as a ceramist, the birth of a new artistic movement appealed to the young artist.
Working his way through the ranks, Royal became one of Dale Chihuly’s main gaffers. This relationship lasted for a number of years and consequently led to Royal’s emergence in the art market in the 1980s. He has since been an independent artist exhibiting work internationally in both solo and group exhibitions.
Wrote gallerist, Ken Saunders: “When Royal joined the staff of Pilchuck it was ostensibly as a maintenance man. In those early days a guy hired to clean up and a guy hired to drive a truck – Royal and William Morris respectively – might easily find themselves assisting the world’s greatest glassblowers as they worked the hot glass, in demonstrations for students and for themselves after hours and after the summer sessions had ended for the season.
Though Royal was introduced to glass as a student at the Central Washington University he pursued an interest in ceramics and in 1972, he and fellow student Ben Moore built a studio in their hometown of Olympia, Washington. There they created a line of production objects made from clay. The young men worked compulsively and energetically but typically found themselves in bohemian circumstances. Royal made his rent money building high-end wood furniture and endeavored to keep the studio viable while Moore enrolled in the under-graduate program at the California College of Arts.
At CCA Moore met Marvin Lipofsky, who was running the glass program, though Moore did not participate in glass at that time and went on to earn his undergrad degree in ceramics. For graduation, Moore’s parents gifted him with a session at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington. There, Moore met Chihuly who liked his energy and encouraged the young artist to help out during the summer programs at Pilchuck and later to attend RISD to earn an MFA in glass. As the small staff of the school expanded to accommodate the explosion of interest in the programming, Moore reached out to his buddy Royal, inviting him to join the staff in 1978. Royal jumped at the chance to get out of Olympia where maintaining the ceramics studio had become a lonely enterprise. ‘I’d heard about what was going on at Pilchuck but I was just thinking about having a job and getting fed regularly. I had no idea what was going to happen…it changed my life.’
After spending the summer of 1978 at Pilchuck, working maintenance and, on many occasions, assisting in the hot-shop during classes and after hours, Royal was invited to stay for the fall to assist Chihuly with his work. Chihuly was assembling a large team that he felt would allow him to create ambitious, large- scale sculptures and installations…
Once winter descended on the Pacific Northwest the team was forced to abandon Pilchuck for the season. Chihuly filled his calendar with Visiting Artist Residencies at colleges and universities around the country and took members of the team with him. Royal recalls the excitement: ‘We’d take over the art department and during our demonstrations the hot shop would be standing room only,’ the team putting on what amounted to a performance with Chihuly playing the master of ceremonies breathlessly directing the action. ‘We would hit the campus like rock stars.’
While Chihuly developed a very specific vision of a large studio employing extremely gifted crafts people to handle very specific tasks in an effort to harness the best each had to offer to the process, most artists working in glass in those days worked in very small teams, basically a handful of artist/friends who took turns leading the creation of their own works with the assistance of the others. ‘We all had our own ideas. In fact, when it was your turn you were expected to have your own ideas for your own work.’ And led by the example set by Dale, ‘everybody was completely supportive of the others and willing to lend a hand if need be.’ Dale set the tone, ‘really supporting whatever each of us wanted to create.’
Royal continued working with Chihuly for nearly 30 years until 2006,. He simultaneously worked at Benjamin Moore Inc. beginning in 1984.
Wrote Saunders: “Royal’s first series of blown objects to find commercial and critical success, the Diamond Cut and Shelter Series, were begun at this time… The most important technical characteristic of this early work was the overlay of color on the outside of the bubble – a strategy that turns the usual process of picking up color first on its head. Royal describes the process: ‘In the Diamond Cut Series I overlaid four or five different colors on the outside of a bubble, brought the blank down to room temperature and used a diamond band saw to cut through those layers…I wanted to create an object that would allow you to look at the outside and inside simultaneously…This was a personal metaphor for exploration, looking inside.” The Shelter Series extended this metaphor reflecting profound changes he was going through emotionally, financially and professionally.
In 1989 his engagement and subsequent marriage to Jana led to Royal’s Relationship Series. The form consists of a top and a bottom of equal size that meet and entwine around a smaller vessel at the center of the sculpture. ‘The Relationship pieces…show two equal entities coming together around a single idea.’ Central to these works was the artist’s sense of scale. Royal committed early on to working in the largest scale that was technically feasible.
Those early bodies of work especially reflect the profound influence Moore and Chihuly had on the artist’s work. Moore’s tight technical approach was itself influenced by Italian Design. Moore blew on-center and his work is often characterized by a restrained use of color. Chihuly, on the other hand, had an organic sensibility but his approach to the creative impulse was as much informed by Warhol as by nature. His pieces were gestural, gaudy and loud in color and in form. Royal thinks that his work has benefited from the influence of these two opposites.
In Royal’s latest body of work, the Geos, the artist has sought to capture the qualities of kiln cast glass in his blown glass constructions. He has emphasized simple and subtle coloration and given the individual pieces a sculptural presence by referencing organic forms as opposed to utilitarian objects. The artist is also reinventing his Diamond Cut series, creating fresh new objects (such as those seen at the top of this page).
Royal’s work can be found in such noteworthy museum collections as The Mint Museum of Art + Design, The High Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, The Tampa Museum of Art, and the Daiichi Museum (Japan). His artwork is also included in the SAFECO Collection, PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, and the Westinghouse Corporation. One of the first Artists-in-Residence at the Waterford Crystal Factory, Royal continues to teach as both a guest artist and faculty member at various universities and the Pilchuck Glass School. A past grant recipient from the National Endowment for the Arts, he has served as a visiting artist at the Corning Museum of Glass, the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Ohio State University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.