The recent passing of Klaus Moje (1936 - 2016), who died at the age of 79 on September 24, 2016, after a protracted illness, has unleashed a global outpouring of grief and appreciation. Honored for his disciplined approach to technique and visionary work taking kiln-forming into the fine-art realm, Moje's impact on the glass art field is immeasurable. Celebrated as an artist, Moje was also hugely influential as an educator, and created the glass program at the Canberra School of Art, which has since been incorporated into the Australian National University's College of Arts and Social Sciences. Consciously not opening with a hot glass furnace, Moje designed the program in 1982 with a radically different approach than most glass education facilities in the world. In honor of Moje's legacy, the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet is republishing an article from the Spring 2005 print edition (GLASS #98) that provides unique insight into the founding of the Canberra program. In the article below, Moje shares his singular perspective on not just education but what it takes to become an artist.
Material Foundations: The Glass Workshop at the Canberra School of Art reflects Klaus Moje's deep respect for glass.
By Andrew Page
In 1982, Klaus Moje left his native Germany to start a glass program on the other side of the world. He had been invited to Australia by Udo Sellbach, the director of the Canberra School of Art, which was organized in the Bauhaus manner, with fine art, design, and decorative art on an equal footing.
At the age of 46, Moje knew he wanted to spend the next 10 years teaching. But before Sellbach’s call, he had declined offers to join the faculty of other institutions. There was no such hesitation when he was offered the opportunity to create an entirely new program. With his second wife, the ceramic artist Brigitte Enders, Moje loaded the most precious items from his Hamburg home and workshop into two shipping containers.
There was the furniture by Borge Mogenson, Thonet, and other modern Scandinavian designers, along with the 1,500-volume library of books about glass that Moje had been collecting since he was 15. The second shipping container carried his prized equipment–grinding machines, lathes, sand belts, and kilns—which he would export to Australia. But the most precious cargo, one could argue, was Moje’s own unrivaled technical mastery of cutting, fusing, and finishing glass. As a teenager, he had apprenticed at his father’s glass and mirror workshop in Hamburg, and later studied glass at vocational universities in Bonn and Frankfurt.
A cold-worker at a time when glassblowing was all the rage, Moje had nevertheless earned himself an international profile. Almost everything about Moje’s style went against the prevailing trends. Where blowers were all about improvisation, flourish, and performance, Moje meticulously planned out his pieces, working with a fierce yet introspective precision. Having studied with German and Czech master craftsmen, he used traditional skills in new ways to achieve painterly effects in kiln-formed glass. Bullseye Glass began to develop new colors of sheet glass in consultation with Moje, who received frequent invitations to be a guest instructor in Europe and the U.S. Before moving to Australia, he had lectured at schools such as London’s Royal Academy of Art, Copenhagen’s Arts & Crafts School, and Pilchuck.
But Moje had been unsatisfied with many of the glass programs he had seen. Set up in the heady, early days of the studio glass movement, they had not had yet time to fully evolve. Says Moje:
In most of the cases, students were in a trial-and-error situation. They were getting neither the technical nor the spiritual side. They were getting a good time at these institutions, playing around, and trying to develop concepts. But whenever something was developed, it was developed along the line of what teachers provided from their own experience. I wanted to find an approach that would find the individual strengths of each student.
When he arrived at Canberra, Moje surprised Sellbach by announcing that there would not be a glassblowing class right away. Sellbach had been consulting with Sam Herman and was expecting to build a hot shop similar to the one Herman had set up at Jam Factory in Adelaide.
“I said, ‘No, we will start with a cold-glass program,’” says Moje. “Because I knew that if we started with hot glass, all of our funds would have been soaked up by hot glass, and we would have had the same situation as everywhere else. I provided the shop with my own grinding machines, kilns, and lathes.“
Another element missing from the first Canberra workshop was a sandblaster. “It is not a very needed piece of equipment,” Moje explains. “It is a tool to create dead surfaces. If surface treatment is necessary, there has to be life in it, and sandblasting leaves no possibility to create an individual touch.”
It is ironic that the founder of such an influential program had never taken studio art classes himself. “Being without a formal education, I had to build up [in] my own mind what I wanted to do,” recalls Moje. He chose a deceptively simple assignment as his starting point—build a glass cube that measured exactly 10 centimeters on all sides, a lesson he still uses in workshops today.
“You could fuse, you could glue, you could create an interior,” says Moje. “You learned to cut glass exactly, you learned to grind glass, polish glass, and then you decorate the glass. When students are done, I can tell their ability to use their hands, and how they approach a new experience.”
Under the direction of Moje, and his successors as head of workshop—Stephen Procter, Jane Bruce, and Richard Whiteley—Canberra would become synonymous with precise, carefully considered artwork that is well-conceived, well-made, and revealing of the hands that made it. The one common denominator in the work of graduates of the program is a deep respect for glass as a material.
Moje believed in breaking down the strict student-teacher hierarchy to build self-reliance in students. “I don’t believe that teaching is a one-man show, it is a togetherness with the leaders, support staff, and also with the students. You must build this as a community,” he says. “The student must find and assess his or her own limits as an artist. It is only when I know the basics, and my limits, that I can also do the next step which is to press through these limits, to extend my vocabulary and my creativity.”
While Moje brought much with him from Europe, he was also determined to instill in students the spirit of discovery and freedom that had so intoxicated him about the studio glass movement in America.
For those of us who came to glass with aesthetic restrictions, the American idea, with its naiveté and excitement, was so mind-blowing. We were able to break away from our tradition—to say, ‘My God, forget these restrictions.’ But remember, whatever happened for us Europeans, it happened in the frame of our experience.
It’s as if at Canberra, Moje worked to create an experience based on the elements of his own education – a strong technical foundation and the courage to develop an individual artistic approach that broke the rules.
Artist Kirstie Rae, now a teacher herself, was one of six glass students in the first year at Canberra. “Klaus would finish teaching with us, and in the early days, he had his studio within the workshop,” Rae remembers. “In the afternoon, he would start working on his own work. There are things that you do, a lot of technical small things, that you don’t think to teach because you think they may be so obvious. But we would see Klaus doing something, even if we didn’t know that we were picking it up, that made it a complete package.”
Glassblower Scott Chaseling, who came to Canberra from Jam Factory in order to finally set up a hot glass shop in 1986, ended up earning his Master’s degree there. He has collaborated closely with Moje and Rae in the pioneering technique of roll-ups, in which kiln-formed glass is picked up and hot worked, a technique Chaseling continues to use today.
“Klaus is the father of Australian glass,” says Chaseling. “He has had such an impact not only through his knowledge but through his wisdom, and there’s a big difference between the two words. ‘Knowledge’ includes all the worldly techniques, but ‘wisdom’ comes only from a big heart of sharing, that has really bled into the students he has had.”
Says Rae: “Klaus taught the whole spectrum of how we make, why we make, and where we sit as artists. At the same time, he taught us to be really thorough with the technical process.”
But as Moje neared the end of the decade-long commitment he had made to teaching, he had come to a point where he needed to focus on his own artwork. “Ten years of teaching art dries you out,” says Moje. “Stephen Procter was the choice to take my place, and he joined in fantastically and continued the philosophical approach. He extended the program very strongly and brought new strength, freshness, and power.”
Procter was assisted for most of his tenure as head of workshop by artist and lecturer Jane Bruce, who, after Procter died in 2001, would run the program for two years. “Stephen took over one of the best-equipped workshops I had ever seen in a school,” says Bruce. “There was also a very good work ethic, which Klaus imbued. It was a professional feeling, and you knew that you wouldn’t be messing around if you went to Canberra.”
Building on Moje’s foundation, the Glass Workshop broadened under Procter and Bruce to include a greater number of international students, which now make up almost half the enrollment. By attracting commissioned work and holding annual sales, the program aggressively raised money to buy additional equipment, and to fund an increasing range of activities. There was no hesitation to boldly promote the school’s profile by sending student work to the Venezia Aperto Vetro in 1996, for example, or encouraging students to form relationships with commercial galleries.
“We tried to make it as real as possible for the students,” says Bruce. “We submitted slides for New Glass Review and one year, six of our students got in. These things helped the university to wake up to the fact that it had a brilliant art school on its doorstep.”
According to Bruce, relations between the Glass Workshop and the Canberra School of Art administration were complex. On the one hand, they were pleased at the rising profile of the Glass Workshop from its presence at high-profile events such as SOFA Chicago. Yet the program was also autonomous in some ways that made administrators uneasy.
“The assistant director once said to me, ‘The Glass Workshop is so feral,’ and we really were,” says Bruce. “You just figured out how to get on with stuff. Stephen and I were accountable in that we ran an incredibly fun program that turned out some incredible students.”
Since 2002, the school has a new director, Richard Whiteley, and it has been more closely integrated into the bureaucracy of the Australian National University system.
With an ever-increasing roster of alumni making everything from installation-based work, sculptural work, and production work the school clearly does not promote a hierarchy, but embraces technique and individual expression across all levels of outcome.
Looking back on his years at Canberra, Moje is reflective. “My personal satisfaction is that wherever I am I hear how former students, be they mine or Stephen’s, that they earn this wide range of praise,” says Moje. “That gives me confidence that we established something Down Under that wasn’t there before. There must be uniqueness that we established, not in specific work, but how we approached students and got the best out of them. This, for me, is the most satisfying moment.”
Andrew Page is the editor of GLASS: The UrbanGlass Art Quarterly.
Editor's Note: This article is available for purchase via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 718 625 3685, ext 222. The article above is COPYRIGHT ©2016 GLASS: The UrbanGlass Art Quarterly (www.glassquarterly.com). All rights reserved. Reprinted from the Spring 2005 edition of GLASS (#98). Permission to reprint, republish, and/or distribute this material in whole or in part for any other purposes must be obtained from UrbanGlass (www.urbanglass.org).