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Through the looking glass

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Dr Kathryn Wightman is a glass artist and the Open Award winner of the 2019 pattillo Whanganui Arts Review. She talks about her career, community and the business of being an artist.

How have you developed your career?

I originally studied for a BA in glass and ceramics followed by a Masters in Glass at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland, UK. As a result of this training I developed a practice that was focused on combining image and blown glass.

Following this I was awarded a business start up grant (Next Move) from the Crafts Council UK. This two-year mentorship guided me through the process of establishing and running a creative business. In 2008, I returned to full time study as Ph.D Research Student at the University of Sunderland to further extend the language of combining Image and Glass. This experience blew open the realms of possibility and my practice took a shift as a result of the processes I developed.

Not long after completing my research and keen to share my knowledge, I applied for a lecturing position at the Whanganui Glass School here in NZ. In 2012, I relocated from the other side of the world and I am now a senior lecturer on the Creative Industries Team at UCOL Whanganui.

The focus of my work these days is still rooted in research practice and the combination of print and glass alongside the integration of digital technologies into craft practice. I often travel overseas to teach technical workshops on the processes and approaches I have developed.

If you weren’t doing what you currently do, what would you be doing?

I’d like to run a business that designs and makes custom surfaces for interior and exterior use with a focus on pattern and ornament. The last house my husband and I bought and renovated was a test case for some of these surfaces! Including highly ornate laser cut lace window screens and personalized kitchen and bathroom tiles screen-printed in a four colour repeat. I love how patterns and surfaces evoke memory or can create a little fantasy world when applied to the spaces we inhabit.

What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a project?

I am in the beginning stages of developing ideas for my solo show at the Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui in 2020. So something along the lines of:

  • What ideas, concepts, images, artworks will the work be exploring and building on?

  • What’s your message?

  • What qualities do you want the work to express?

  • How will you handle/ manipulate/ compose materials to express your ideas?

  • What are there any limitations in scale, budget, knowledge, skill?

What do you consider to be your most successful shows of the last five years?

In 2018, I was invited to exhibit in a small group show called Evolve at Bullseye Projects in Portland, Oregon, US. The exhibition is a companion show, to Emerge the Biennial juried international kiln glass exhibition. Evolve 2018 focused on three former finalists of Emerge.

As a former winner of Emerge in 2014, I felt a certain amount of pressure to create a new and interesting body of works that had in fact ‘evolved’ since receiving the prize in 2014. This pressure coupled with being a new mother pushed me to face the reality head on that things had changed quite substantially in my world. The works have been well received and the exhibition tours numerous locations in the US till late 2019.

How do you engage with your community?

Whanganui has a thriving arts scene with a busy calendar of openings, public talks, and events, therefore it’s pretty easy to stay connected. The New Zealand Glassworks on Rutland Street is a public facility and hub that serves the regional and national glass community. As I use the facility to teach the glass components of the qualifications I deliver for UCOL, I am able to stay in tune with what is happening on the NZ glass scene.

I have also been a committee member of the New Zealand Society for Artists in Glass (NZSAG), which is another way to be engaged in community. The recent joint AUS-NZ glass conference was a great event for collaboration.

Alongside that social media plays a big role as it has the ability to transcend geographical locations allowing me to connect with other networks of like-minded individuals all over the world.

You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?

Rainbow – Because choosing one colour is just too hard!

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

Fantasies of the things I'd like to make if budget and time restrictions were non-existent.

What’s something your brain tries to make you do and you have to will yourself not to do it?

Checking social media! I find myself scrolling and I don’t remember how I got there and I’m like, 'Stop. Make it stop, put it down!'

From left to right, top to bottom:

Set one:

Dissociation, 2018. (Detail) Powdered glass, screenprinted, kiln formed, mirror

Width: 110 cm

Height: 54 cm

Depth: 0.6 cm

Austin, 2019. 3D scanned, 3D printed PLA, scaled versions of my son.

Width: 34cm

Height: 30cm

Depth: 23 cm

Stained, 2015, Powdered glass, screenprinted, kiln formed and stained.

Width: 147cm)

Length: 244 cm

Depth: 0.6 cm

Dissociation, 2018. (Detail) Powdered glass, screenprinted, kiln formed, mirror

Width: 110 cm

Height: 54 cm

Depth: 0.6 cm

Set two:

Dr Kathryn

Still, 2018. Powdered glass, screenprinted, kiln formed

Width: 80 cm

Height: 134 cm

Depth: 0.6 cm


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