20 February 2023

Canberra still life made entirely of glass blows away judges in national competition

| James Coleman
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Annette Blair

A Quiet Afternoon in May by Canberra Glasswork’s Annette Blair. Photo: Adam McGrath.

A Canberra artist has taken home a national award and $11,000 in cash for a still life artwork crafted entirely from glass.

A Quiet Afternoon in May depicts two dented and rusty buckets of kindling, surrounded by a colourful cluster of about 120 fallen autumn leaves. Very nice on face value, but even more impressive when you consider it was crafted over several months using nothing but hot glass and a lot of skill.

Annette Blair works out of the Canberra Glassworks in Kingston, as well as her studio in Burra. She says each of the different elements in the piece required a different technique and “lots of hours”.

“Just the sheer mass of leaves and sticks took a lot of time to make,” she says.

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“I’m pretty efficient, but there’s only so much speed. There’s a lot of waiting for the glass to cool down, before I can grind, paint and heat it back up. None of those processes are fast.”

Annette was one of about 200 glassworkers and glassblowers from Australia and New Zealand registered to take part in the 2023 AUSGLASS Conference, held in Melbourne between 3 and 5 February.

She had never entered any of the event’s competitions before, but her piece not only won the People’s Choice Prize and $1000 in cash but also the coveted Vicki Torr International Year of Glass Prize, along with its accompanying prize of $10,000.


Annette Blair at work at the Canberra Glassworks, blowing glass. Photo: Adam McGrath.

This title honours its namesake Vicki Torr, an Australian glass artist who lived between 1949 and 1992. Last year marked not only the 30th anniversary of her death but also the ‘International Year of Glass’.

“I thought my piece was possibly a bit big to send down to Melbourne for the competition, but because I was so happy with it, I just went for it,” she says.

Annette traces her love for glasswork to an open day at the Australian National University (ANU) while she was still in high school.

“I then organised a week-long placement with them during my last year of high school, and I knew it was for me after that,” she says.

She undertook a major in glass as part of a bachelor’s degree in visual arts at the ANU, before moving to Adelaide for an on-the-job apprenticeship in glassblowing at a local JamFactory for three years. By then, the Canberra Glassworks had opened, so she moved back and took up a space in the gallery.

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“I’m really interested in domestic objects and how we can have connections to those objects,” she says.

“It might look like just a bucket of sticks, but it brings back different memories for different people. It’s about paying attention to things that are often overlooked.”

In the case of A Quiet Afternoon in May, Annette says it’s inspired by walking around Canberra during COVID-19, when she took renewed notice of all the different shades of autumn.

“I remembered my childhood, and visiting my grandparents’ place,” she says.

“Outside their shed in the backyard, there would always be buckets of kindling, getting ready for starting the fire in winter.”

She’s still working out what to do with the $11,000 of total prizemoney, but anticipates visiting the USA later this year to work with the Pilchuck Glass School, Washington, and the Pittsburgh Glass Centre, Pennsylvania.

Beyond that, she wants to keep finessing her glass crafting techniques here in Canberra, even if none of her family seem to have picked up the interest.

“I really love finding out what’s possible with glass and trying to let glass show off its character,” she says.

“My family is really supportive obviously and interested in what I’m making, but they’re happy to watch.”

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