North Lands Creative Glass 13th Annual Conference

September 2009

Publication: Northings

Colour and Transparency

North Lands Creative Glass 13th Annual Conference



This year’s annual North Lands Creative Glass conference — the culmination of a year-round programme of workshops, residencies and other events — was overshadowed by the recent death of Dan Klein, one of North Lands’ founder directors.


Klein’s charming, helpful and erudite presence was sorely missed and his loss keenly felt. Klein founded North Lands in 1996 along with Iain Gunn and Robert Maclennan. To many it seemed an unlikely venture: setting up a visionary centre of excellence on the cliffs of the ‘Grey Coast’. But, confounding its critics and with strong local, national and international support, North Lands flourished, each year becoming more enterprising and intellectually stimulating. Klein was always there - strongly present and supportive - but never upstaging. His friendship with so many of the world's leading glass artists, gallery owners and curators coupled with his enthusiasm and expertise were largely responsible for establishing North Lands as one of Europe's principal centres in studio glass. Klein made a particularly valuable contribution to North Lands over the past eighteen months as Honorary Artistic Director giving freely of his advice and time in spite of failing health. He was responsible for this year's master classes and conference and was still discussing arrangements from his sick bed a few days before he died.


With his life partner of twenty-two years, Alan J. Poole, Klein bought St. Mary's Church in Lybster where they intended to house their extensive collection of British and Irish Contemporary Glass. For various practical reasons the project couldn’t be realised. However, it was his hope that, in the future, the building could be incorporated into the North Lands set-up. The collection itself is to be donated to the National Museums of Scotland in the near future. This is a collection of some three-hundred pieces of work dating from several decades ago to the present day and will be an important and substantial addition to the NMS glass collection.


Klein had a varied career as a gallery owner and opera singer before becoming one of the world’s acknowledged experts in glass. Tributes were paid to the variety and diversity of Klein’s life by Lani McGregor of Bullseye Glass and Peter and Sasha Alexander with whom Klein collaborated musically, touring parts of Scotland as part of a trio in the 1970s. Lord Maclennan of Rogart contributed a moving eulogy, quoting Matthew Arnold's monody, 'Thyrsis' - dedicated to his fellow poet Arthur Hugh Clough.


The conference itself offered much in the way of information and discursive ideas and was a tribute both to Klein’s imaginative programming and his impressive array of professional contacts. Speakers included the art historian Elizabeth Conran,  Museum Director Anne Vanlatum, from Sars-Poteries,  Czech artist Dana Zámecníková and the ebullient US artist Therman Statom.


Keynote speaker, Clare Johnston, Head of Textiles at the Royal College of Art, has worked as a colour consultant in both fashion and interior design for illustrious names such as Marks & Spencer and Liberty. The use of colour, she suggested, should not conform to fixed ideas, reinforcing her personal credo that “rules are made to be broken,” adding that “the use of colour in products and the retail environment has a very powerful impact; apparently the brain registers and reacts to colour before anything else”.


Dutch glass designer Mieke Groot has been inspired by the colours and patterns of West Africa and maintains a working base in Mali. Inspired by local artefacts, textiles and jewellery her approach to colour and texture was transformed by her first journey to the region about fifteen years ago.  French artist Udo Zembok discussed the paradoxical idea of the ‘invisibility of light’.  Glass offers  infinite possibilities for creating effects derived from light and colour, particularly with Zembok’s preferred technique of fusing together plates of differently coloured glass.


Kaffe Fassett, by now almost a household name and famed for his knitted patterns of vivid colour, his quilting and diverse publications talked with inspired enthusiasm about his joy in the world of colour. His work celebrates these enthusiasms and acts as an inspiration to others. Fassett sees the world as an endless array of pattern, form and colour and almost anything — from painted fences and gardens to deck chairs — can act as the starting point for his designs.


Stein Klein worked as a career executive living the corporate commuter life in California before being bitten by the glass bug, spending an inspirational time at Dale Chihuly’s Pilchuck Glass School in Washington. His work could be described as either inspired by or derivative of the work of other artists, depending on one’s point of view. For Klein, the bold motifs and patterning of Brancusi, Malevich and Mondrian act as a constant source of fascination and his bold simplified glass forms – often expressed as circles and squares – testify to this.


Despite the undercurrent of loss, the conference, which attracted nearly eighty participants from around the globe, demonstrated the strength and diversity of studio glass and its complex relationship with fine art.