Written by John Williams
Photography by Jamie Cobel
My experience of collecting glass and ceramics is somewhat limited, but not unusual, I’d imagine. Childhood memories are of my mother’s arrangement of blue, Willow-patterned plates on the dining room wall, a large cut-glass fruit bowl on the sideboard (no fruit – too good for fruit), and an antique glass display cabinet crammed with ornate porcelain figurines and flower collections, by Lladro and Capodimonte. And, more recently, the endless racks of banal, cookie-cutter offerings stacked on the shelves of pretty much every high-street homeware store. Yawn.
What a breath of fresh air it was then, to walk into the splendid Masterworks Gallery at 71 Upper Queen Street and talk with owners, Christine Hedlund and Eloise Kitson, about how to begin curating a modern collection of glass and ceramics.
“We’re blurring the lines between public and private spaces by holding regular events at the gallery, where you can meet and talk to the artists,” says, Eloise.
What’s immediately obvious about this mother-and-daughter partnership is their passion for the modern craft movement in New Zealand. The pair took over the established gallery in 2009 with the aim of educating their audience of the continuing changes in the craft movement and also developing new approaches to promoting the artists they represent.
“We have introduced THINKspace – an ongoing series of exhibitions that give a behind-the-scenes look at the creative processes behind selected artists.”
The gallery specialises in ceramics, glass and jewellery, displaying each in equal measure in a white, light-filled space that sits proudly at the top end of Upper Queen St, home to a growing number of Auckland’s premier galleries and studios. Almost all of the artists it represents are local. Christine and Eloise are both keen to point out that this is due to the wealth of local creative talent.
Walking through the space, many pieces immediately catch my eye. The variety is impressive – from large, colourful cast glass vases, sitting on individual plinths, to a spray of tiny glazed plates arranged on a wall. They all look fantastic, displayed here in the gallery, but how will these pieces look once they’ve been taken from the gallery setting?
“Yes, it’s often hard to visualise how a piece will look in your home,” says, Eloise. “That’s why we offer a ‘live with it overnight’ service, whereby you can take selected pieces home to see how they look in the space, if they fit in with your existing décor, and how light and shadow plays with them over the course of the day and night.”
Because ceramics and glass are mostly impervious to damage from sunlight and moisture, they can be displayed anywhere in the home – even outside in some cases. “I’ve got pieces in the bathroom and the kitchen. You spend time in those rooms, so why not personalise them with things that make you happy.”
“I have them in just about every room in the house,” says Christine.
Because of its colour and translucency, glass thrives in a sunlit part of your home. “It actually comes alive when exposed to light – and its personality changes depending on what time of day it is,” smiles, Christine.
Let’s talk money
Often the elephant in the room, or the gallery, is the price tag. No one likes to ask – and if you have to ask, then you can’t afford it, so the old adage goes. Well, let’s dispel that myth immediately. You can pick up an original piece in the Masterworks gallery for under $200. That’s a bargain in my book. And, generally speaking, you won’t lose money on anything you buy.
“However, you should always buy because you love it, not as an investment,” insists, Christine. Assuming that’s the case. Are glass and ceramics a good investment?
“They can be,” Says, Eloise. “Ann Robinson is the stellar example. We’ve shown her work from the very beginning. You used to be able to buy a piece of cast work from her for around $2,000 – now there’s very little under $20,000.”
Starting a collection
There are no rules on how to display your collection
One of the emerging trends over the past few years has been collecting wall-hung ceramics and glass pieces, or ‘wall work’, by artist's such as Merryn Jones, Crystal Chain Gang and John Roy. “The great thing is that you can start a wall work with one or two pieces and grow them into a wonderful collection,” says, Eloise. “I’ve often given a couple of Richard Parker plates as a wedding gift, just to get people started."
Tailor them to your space – spread them out over a wide wall, up a stairwell, or as a tight cluster. You can also re-arrange them from time to time, depending on your mood, to give a completely different feel.
If you don’t have the wall space, or prefer a more traditional way of displaying glass or ceramics, take a note of these local artists – John Parker, Layla Walker and Paul Maseyk.
Better still, pop into Masterworks Gallery on Upper Queen St, have a chat with Eloise or Christine, and see them for yourself.