International artists creating glasswork using a basic furnace, plus a chance to dig for some amazing prizes, drew the crowds to Castlecliff Beach on Sunday afternoon.

The public event was part of the CoLab Australasian Glass Conference that was held in Whanganui over the weekend. The New Zealand Society of Artists in Glass (NZSAG) and its Australian counterpart Ausglass have previously organised their own conferences in alternate years. This is the first time they have come together for a combined conference.

After a weekend of conference activities, the artists headed for Castlecliff Beach for a public event including a Dig In. There were separate sections for adults and children in the Dig In, where people paid to dig a section of the beach for a prize.

People were also able to view a furnace built at the beach where artists created basic glass objects. Led by Canberra's Sui Jackson, the furnace was built from bricks salvaged from the old furnace at New Zealand Glassworks and a slurry using clay sourced from Marton and sand from Castlecliff Beach, and fired by driftwood.

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Martinborough's Alex Penfold (left) at work at the beach furnace, a project led by Sui Jackson (right), of Canberra.
Martinborough's Alex Penfold (left) at work at the beach furnace, a project led by Sui Jackson (right), of Canberra.

New Zealand Glassworks manager Scott Redding said organisers were delighted with the response to the conference and Sunday's public event.

"We had 100 glass pieces donated for the Dig In - it was an amazing response from the artists," Redding said.

"The pieces range from a paper weight valued about $40 to a piece worth $4000. And I'm pretty sure it's the first time there's been a furnace on the beach.

"It's been really important for us to have this public event and bring people to Castlecliff. The locals came down to the beach and helped us set up for the dig in. We've also had great support from Whanganui District Council, Whanganui & Partners and Progress Castlecliff, with funding from the Australian Arts Council and Creative New Zealand."

Glass artist Jim Dennison, of Martinborough's Crystal Chain Gang, said he thought the conference had been "a fantastic success".

"The people from overseas are loving it and they love the buildings here in Whanganui," Dennison said.

"I've seen some photos of the historic big digs they had here at Castlecliff and this is a great event."

Sunday's beautiful weather attracted the crowds to Castlecliff Beach for the Dig In and swimming.
Sunday's beautiful weather attracted the crowds to Castlecliff Beach for the Dig In and swimming.

The CoLab conference drew 220 delegates, double the number expected, with about a third from New Zealand, a third from Australia and others from Indonesia, Germany and the United States, Redding said.

"Everyone has said the conference was one of the best ever," he said.

"It's the biggest glass conference we've ever had in New Zealand. We had two-and-a-half days of lectures and live demos at Glassworks and they were livestreamed and are on the New Zealand Glassworks' Facebook page so we've had a global audience for the first time."

This week the artists are involved in a series of workshops in Whanganui.