Glass artists Simon Lewis Wards, Luke Jacomb and Katherine Rutecki blow glass in their studio in Newton. Photo / Babiche Martens
When design historian and current manager of the Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins said in a NZ Listener article late last year that the contemporary glass movement in this country was "in danger of imminent collapse" due to an overpopulation of hobbyists and fly-by-nighters it fomented much heated discussion among those in the industry. Viva meets four young glass artists who are taking their chosen vocation seriously - but having fun at the same time.
When you hail from a city known for its snowstorms, you probably spend a lot of time indoors. Perhaps that's why Katherine Rutecki, who grew up in Buffalo in the United States (notorious for its winter blizzards), found a cosy escape in art. "As a little girl, I remember drawing all the time - mainly horses," she says.
At 18, her imaginative skills won her a scholarship to the School of Art & Design in Alfred, New York where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in sculpture. Credit, though, also belongs to a friend who recognised in Rutecki the "meticulous nature" that would allow her to become a successful glass artist - and steered her in this direction.
"It's such a challenging medium," she explains. "Casting glass is extremely technical but freeing at the same time in that you can make anything once you've figured out specifics and fully understood the process."
In layman's terms, Rutecki uses a series of rubber then plaster and silicone moulds into which, ultimately, glass frits (or particles) are poured and then melted in a kiln to form a luminous piece. She then "cold works" the surface to smooth out the glass. "I like to leave some tool marks and fingerprints and not grind away everything."
Tall, slim with distinctive white-rimmed glasses, she came to New Zealand with her partner, glass artist Luke Jacomb, two years ago. In their eponymous design studio in Newton, she's enjoying one of the most creative periods of her life.
Her fine art work centres on a collection of birds, an idea that was born when Rutecki read an article about migrating flocks at night. Birds, who navigate by the stars, became disoriented by our urbanised landscape and the lights in tall buildings were causing them to plummet straight into them.
"I became obsessed with the idea of 'the confused flock', of one bird smashing into another. I see it as a personal narrative, about how we do what we have to, to get through the struggles in life."
These cast-glass sculptures include dual birds in two different stances - either breast to breast (Embrace) or on top of each other (Tandem).
Rutecki, whose work has been accepted into the Ebeltoft Glass Museum in Denmark, says that some viewers may interpret them as sexual or even loving, but for her they represent the chaos that can happen without warning.