Saturday, 8 August 2015

Making his mark – The changing sign of Colin Heaney

The story of Colin Heaney’s glass making is well known. Born in Canada, growing up in California, he came to Australia attracted by the golden beaches and surf breaks. His approach in 1982 to a new interest in glass making was characteristic – he bought the gear and hired an expert from the US to set it up and give him some initial instruction. From then on he taught himself.

Located in Byron Bay, famous for its lighthouse, laid back lifestyle and surf culture, Heaney’s glass studio became the largest such operation in the country. It is said that 15 people were employed there at one stage. Through the 1980s and 1990s, almost everyone who was anyone in Australian (and New Zealand) studio glass worked there at one time or another.

Our interest today is not in the objects made by Colin Heaney, but instead in the way they are marked with the maker’s name or business name. The familiar signature is “C. Heaney” with a flourish so that the lower part of the C protrudes to become the cross member of the H and then extends wildly beyond. The rest of the signature is a lower parallel line, with barely a squiggle to describe the letters, until the final flourish of an enormous drop for the letter “y”.

In the earlier days of this "artistic" signature, there was more definition in the handwriting, as the following examples show. It is even possible to check the spelling in the second one (from 1988).

It is remarkable that Colin Heaney has dated all of these items as well as signing them. As we will see, he didn’t always do that in the very early days. By contrast, other glass artists who may once have dated their works have ceased to do so. As one practitioner explained it, some potential customers object to “old” works from a year or two previous and want to see “new” works from the current year. That was enough for him to cease the practice of dating his work. Apparently that was not Heaney’s experience.

For a period in the late 1980s and early 90s, much of the production output of Heaney’s studio was signed “CBHG”, standing for Cape Byron Hot Glass – not as sometimes guessed “Colin B Heaney Glass”! This form of studio mark serves several purposes. Often it distinguishes a lower form of production wares, with the artist’s own signature being reserved for more exalted exhibition pieces. More likely in this case, the practice acknowledges that the items may in fact be made by others, with the artist being the designer but not actually handling the work. Here are some examples (marked in different writer’s hands).

In addition to the engraved marks, either the personal signature or the studio mark, many items from Heaney’s studio had a small round gold coloured sticker attached. Here are a few examples, including one that sports a second larger sticker as well as the gold button and the familiar signature.

So, what of the early days? There are five years of Colin Heaney’s career 1983-1987 not illustrated in the images above. The shape of his natural handwriting can be seen in the example from 1988 in the fourth photo from the top, and in the earlier years it had even more of a schoolboy innocence to it. As we noted above, he often didn’t include the year with his signature on early works. Less surprising is the rougher engraving of the name, attributable to the rudimentary tools afforded by a beginner’s budget. Here are two such examples, showing all of these attributes:

Next is an unusual specimen and an exception to Heaney's customary form of signature on glass. It must be admitted that it suffers from the roughest of engraving tools being used on a rough iridized surface, but undoubtedly it is signed “Colin Heaney” with his name in full. The year appears to be 1987.

Colin Heaney ceased making glass in 2008 and sold the studio to Matthew Farrell. Since then, he has been designing silk scarves, bed linen and bikinis. Along with these new creative endeavours, his signature has been reinvented, as this example shows.


  1. Thank you for illustrating some of the older signatures. My wife and I have a good collection of Heaney's work and you have helped confirm the signature on one of our pieces. The work itself was very much in Heaney's style, but the signature was different to any of those we had seen before. I had assumed it must have been one of his earlier works. Your illustrations above confirm my assumption.

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  3. We have one of his pieces in North Carolina, it is a large beautiful blue iridescent bowl, I was just trying to find information on the artist. Definitely Colin Heaney.