Glass artist John Owens was in Morocco last year when he got a phone call saying Jim and Jenny Scotland had placed the winning bid to commission a piece of  his work. Many months later, a fused glass, abstract sculpture now shimmers in the Scotland’s Havelock home.

Jenny Scotland likes art, but doesn’t consider herself a collector, and had no intention of bidding for a commission when she and her husband Jim walked into Creative Hawke’s Bay’s 2008 Art Invitational Opening Night.  Local artist Nic Scotland, their daughter, had urged them to attend.  The Scotlands were unaware that an auction was in store, much less that on offer was the chance to commission an artwork from several well established, participating artists.

John Owens was one such artist, with a glass arts career spanning 35 years.  His work graces local sites such as the Hastings Opera House, Saint Andrews Church in Hastings and Saint Luke’s in Havelock.  Jenny, already familiar with John’s work, was interested in adding a glass piece to the paintings and sculpture in her home.  Soon enough she was bidding for his commission. “I’d bought at auctions before,” Jenny says. “I knew what I was doing and I knew the price I was prepared to pay.” She was not surprised at placing the winning bid.

A meeting at the Scotland’s home launched the commission process.  Says Owens, “I looked at the house and where they hoped to display the new work.  We had a few words on what the art could be.  I suggested we do some fused glass.” As Jenny recalls it, “I had no clear idea of what we wanted and I really had no idea of how the glass could be worked.  I showed him an existing alcove where the piece might possibly go.  John said yes, he would come up with some designs, and took all sorts of measurements.”

“It was fascinating to see what John could do,” says Jenny.  “Once he came and saw the space and described the type of thing he wanted do, that was it.”  Within a week, she says, Owens sent her a picture of a possible design.  “The shape and size didn’t really change from then on,” but the color scheme was extensively revised.

Owns spends about two-thirds of his time fulfilling commissions for institutions, architectural and design firms, and private individuals.  Many of the briefs, like the Scotlands’, are not very specific.  “It allows for a lot of creativity and spontaneity,” he says; but the trick to a successful commission is trust. “If they didn’t trust me or my reputation, we wouldn’t have done the project.”

For her part, Jenny says she wasn’t worried about not liking the finished product.  “I was quite confident that we could work something out.  I felt I had full control because he sent me computer images at each stage of the process.  I knew what it was going to look like.”

But what if the finished piece had not been to her liking? “Well,” she says, “you can always sell it.”  Happily, Owens’ work will be staying right where it belongs, in the Scotland’s home.

Artists up for auction as this year’s Invitational Opening Night include Jacob Scott, Stacy Gordine, Prakash Patel, Wendy Whitehead and Jeff Thomson.  Commission bids in the past have ranged from $650 to $6,500.  Proceeds will be used to support Creative Hawke’s Bay’s 2009 Lecture Series.

In addition to the auction, the Invitational introduces new works by 53 established and emerging contemporary artists.  All works are for sale and will be on exhibition at the Hastings City Art Gallery from April 24 to May 31.

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