There have been a lot of students of glass in New Zealand since the first tertiary course was established in Whanganui in 1989. While some have gone on to make sustainable careers as professional glass artists, many others stop their glass-making once they finish their studies, or after a few years in the 'real world'. A collector of glass like me is always delighted to buy a piece by an 'emerging artist' since that person may go on to a significant career. I have a number of pieces in my collection which are early examples by some of today's 'names' in glass - perhaps that might be the subject for a future blog. But equally, I also have pieces that are one of only a few made by a particular person, who did not carry on in glass. I treasure those as well.
I first came across the name Nic (for Nicola) Robb in June 2006 when I bought a piece on TradeMe signed 'Nic Robb Feb 89'. Just over 8cm high, it's hardly the greatest piece of glass ever made, though a competent piece for a beginner, with its iridised light brown body and the brown spiral that rises from the base. Because I knew Tony Kuepfer was teaching glass in Whanganui in 1989, I asked him if he recalled the maker. Tony, who is ever helpful in responding to my many enquiries of him, responded saying:
"Nic Robb was in the first group of students for the Certificate in Craft Design Programme at the old Wanganui Regional Community College (UCOL). That was about the time I was getting involved with them and before they had any studio. They sent their glass majors up [to Tony's studio at Inglewood] to get a taste of glass. Nic was in the first graduating class late 80s.
"Her piece is a nice bit of the history for your collection perhaps…"
In 2007, another piece of Nic's was offered on Trademe, but I was not successful in acquiring it - the photo at right from the TradeMe site is my only record of it. 22cm in diameter, it was also signed 'Nic Robb Feb 89'.
In February 2010, I was successful in bidding for another piece, this time signed 'Nic Robb May 89'. It's 10cm high. One might guess the first two were made at the beginning of the academic year, and this one in the May holidays after the first term.
None of these pieces is more than a competent student product, and looking at them alone one might understand why Nicola didn't continue as a glass artist. So imagine my surprise and delight to see another piece listed on TradeMe in November 2013.
This is a much more accomplished piece, simple yet elegant in form and very attractive in its use of two layers of coloured chip. The pontil has come away cleanly, and there are no tool marks. It is signed 'N.Robb Mar 89', so presumably made during term time - Easter perhaps? It's 13cm high.
Nic apparently didn't continue her career in glass - I've not seen any pieces later than 1989. But she did pursue a career in arts administration, serving as PA to Dowse Art Museum Director Tim Walker in Lower Hutt from 1998 to 2003. I have not been successful in my efforts to contact Nic, though I understand she is probably still based in Wellington.
As Tony Kuepfer indicated, Nic Robb was part of the first intake of students in glass at the Wanganui Regional Community College, which had been established in 1984. The glass course began in 1989, leading Tony Kuepfer away from his Inglewood studio, to move eventually to take up full-time teaching at Whanganui. The College became Wanganui Regional Polytechnic during the reorganisation of Polytechnic education in the 1990s, before becoming part of the Universal College of Learning (UCOL) in 2002. In 2007 UCOL and the Wanganui District Council entered into a partnership agreement to secure the future of the school, and in 2008, the District Council established a Private Training Establishment, the Wanganui Educational Institute, which now manages the operational activities of the Glass School facility. But that of course was long after Nic Robb had left.