ArtsNational Coffs Coast hosts glass act with Andy McConnell

Not just a presenter, Andy shows off his skill in audience participation at St John Paul College Theatre. Photo: Brian Thomas.

ANTIQUES Roadshow glass expert Andy McConnell entertained guests in a humorous and passionate style he calls ‘street theatre’ at the May ArtsNational talk at St John Paul College Theatre.

His topic? Scandinavian Glass: From Orrefors to IKEA.

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The former rock journalist told the audience of 160 that his passage from rock ‘n’ roll to ‘glass nutter’ still astounds him.

Since joining Antiques Roadshow in 2004, Andy has travelled the world to learn about glass.

His many visits to the glass production hothouse of Småland in southeast Sweden has produced a deep knowledge and respect for Scandinavian glass design and production.

Endowed with plenty of forests and water, Småland has been the nucleus of artisan glassworks since the first company, Kosta, was established in 1742.

Swedish glass production during the 18th and 19th centuries was conventional and derivative.

The magic, according to Andy, started in 1913.

With the establishment of a glassworks in the small Swedish village of Orrefors in 1898 originally churning out utilitarian products like jars and bottles, it all changed in 1913 with recruitment of the first of its brilliant new designers.

From 1916 to 1945, Orrefors became synonymous with innovation in both design and production techniques.

Andy’s animated, emotive and passionate presentation style brought this flowering of Swedish glass design alive for his audience.

“[From] pastiche, which was well executed but boring, to new patterns, designs and manufacturing innovation, Sweden led the way,” Andy explained.

These innovations included copper wheel engraving, described by Andy as like an old-fashioned Singer sewing machine, driven by feet, scratching designs onto glass.

Orrefors gained attention and visibility from its many art fair successes throughout Europe between the wars, leading to increased demand for its striking, one-off pieces.

To make money though it needed to produce and sell lots of everyday items like wine glasses.

The designers recruited by Orrefors had rock-star status and some had egos to match, according to Andy.

Star designers like Edward Hald, Nils Landberg and Vicke Lindstrand often had little glass blowing experience when they started, but they had visual imagination and graphic design skills in spades.

While Orrefors led the way, other companies sprang up like mushrooms in its wake.

Sometimes there were cheaper and more accessible glass pieces, like those produced by Boda.

But Kosta, Åfors and Pukeberg, among others, competed at the high end by attracting their own illustrious designers.

Now, with mergers and acquisitions, the premier Swedish design brand is Orrefors Kosta Boda, which is still the largest glassworks in Scandinavia.

Andy McConnell ended his ArtsNational talk with a graph showing how many Swedish glass manufacturers were still producing artisan glassworks in 2024.

Not many remain, although IKEA is spreading Swedish-designed glass around the world.

Today, China mass produces the world’s utilitarian glass works.

“Andy’s talk highlighted the role risk, imagination and experimental techniques can play in transforming something everyone takes for granted,” ArtsNational Coffs Coast spokesperson Annie Talve told News Of The Area.

“Our next talk, on 17 June, moves the action from Sweden to Sydney.

“Writer, curator and cultural historian Dr Sally Gray will showcase a group of rebellious and talented Australian artists and designers at the forefront of cultural change in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“Join us for ‘Friends, Fashion and Fabulousness: The Making of an Australian Style’ at our new venue at Coffs’ St John Paul College Theatre,” she said.



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