This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on March 22, 2019

Art glass is beautiful, intricate and the result of decades of study - a craft handed down over the centuries that has fully taken root in Whanganui.

Whanganui's glass school was once well known around the world before its reputation waned. So much so, it almost closed down.

"The council didn't want it to close," said Alan McGibbon, ex-District Council employee.


"They saw the value of glass art way back then.

"Although the council hadn't quantified exactly how valuable it was, there was certainly anecdotal evidence that it made a difference as to how we were perceived outside Whanganui."

Garry Nash, ONZM, said the heydays were heady times indeed.

"We were a rare breed," Nash aid. "We were like rockstars. We could go anywhere in the world and people knew our names."

"I thought it would last forever but now I'm just an old has-been, like a faded musician or something."

In 2016, NZ Glassworks was established and three years on, it seems that investment is paying off.

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"What you've got now is something that is iconic, and it's built on the back of all those years of what was a glass school," McGibbon said.

"Now you've got education occurring, you've got professional development occurring, you just had the Australasian conference here recently."


Scott Redding moved back from Melbourne to run NZ Glassworks and brought his husband, internationally-recognised glass artist, Phillip Stokes.

The two were instrumental in bringing CoLab, the prestigious Australasian glass conference to Whanganui last month.

Canberra glass artists have an annual tradition of making a furnace as they would have done centuries ago so Redding decided to do somewthing similar.

"We thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring Sui Jackson over from Canberra and collaborate with Phillip Stokes and do our own Whanganui beach furnace."

The 2000-year-old technology worked well and they melted glass in the morning from 5am and were blowing it by 2pm.

Hundreds of people went to Castlecliff Beach to see the glass furnace in action and dig for glass art treasures that had been buried in the sand - an artistic treasure hunt.

According to McGibbon, NZ Glassworks has brought wider benefits to the town.

"We got a consulting firm to look at the value of it and it was startling," he said. "People come here to buy glass and that's bigger than it's ever been before."

He's not afraid to draw inspiration from Kiwi sporting heroes.

"We've really got to tuck down and learn something from the All Blacks. We figured it out a wee while ago, if you get all eight forwards together, it works better than one or two of them working by themselves.

"So if everyone can get on the same song sheet, we'll be right. So things like artists' open studios, glass Week... we've really got to keep going with those sorts of things."

An example of that collaboration, the Under the Sun Chandelier, is on show at the Sarjeant Gallery until mid-May.

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