This month marks ten years since the sad passing of Dan Klein (1938 – 2009); a passionate collector, supporter and promoter of contemporary glass.
Alongside his partner Alan J. Poole, he notably championed the work of artists from Britain and Ireland for over 30 years. Becoming lifelong friends with many, he is recognised for helping bring international recognition for British glass art. In addition, both he and Alan amassed a large collection of studio and art glass over their time together, and separately, of which they generously donated over 300 pieces to National Museums Scotland in 2009.
Dan Klein was an eloquent and passionate promoter of glass, who came to the world of decorative arts in the 1970s following an earlier career as an opera singer. He first became interested in contemporary glass around 1975, after he chanced upon a gallery in New York exhibiting contemporary sculptural glass. So taken was he with these sculptural pieces, he soon became one of the first people in Britain to start collecting and writing about contemporary studio and art glass.
This enthusiasm soon led him to establish his own gallery in 1978, specialising in 20th century Decorative Arts and Contemporary Glass. It was here that Dan first introduced leading international artists and makers of glass to the British public, many of which were at this time unknown in the UK. For example, his 1983 exhibition Masters of Czech Glass 1945-1965 notably showcased artists such as Stanislav Libenský, Jaroslava Brychtová, Jiří Harcuba and Antonin Drobnik, whose pieces soon attracted the interest of collectors and museum curators alike.
Dan, alongside Alan, was an exception among British collectors in that he had an active and encouraging role within many artists’ careers. He acted both as a patron, and as a champion of British and Irish studio and art glass on an international stage. Through his activities as an auctioneer at Christie’s and later Phillips, he encouraged the sale of contemporary glass. As a writer (notably his publication Twentieth Century Masters in Glass, one of the first global surveys of the art of contemporary glass) and as a curator he helped establish many artists’ careers. He was often described by many as a charming individual, cogent critic, eloquent, discerning, generous of his time and a lot of fun to be with. Many of the artists Dan championed during this period went on to have work acquired by the V&A Museum, London; Corning Museum of Glass, New York State; and other leading museums including ourselves here at National Museums Scotland.
This enthusiasm for contemporary glass led Dan to establish Dan Klein Associates in 1995 with Alan, in order to spread the word about contemporary glass and promote and support British and Irish artists. Dan and Alan not only championed studio and art glass, they also became close friends with many international artists, gallerists and curators. In addition, Dan also accepted the position of Professor and Head of Glass and Ceramics at the University of Sunderland (1996 – 1999), becoming responsible for the creation of one of the largest educational centres in Europe for higher education and research in glass, and was strategic in the development of the National Glass Centre, Sunderland.
Whilst here in Scotland he was instrumental in establishing the formally known North Lands Creative Glass (now North Lands Creative) in Lybster, Caithness in 1996, alongside Alan, Iain and Bunty Gunn, the glass engraver Denis Mann, and Sir Robert MacLennan. This internationally recognised centre of excellence was established to stimulate the growing interest in the possibilities of glass as an art form, and create an intimate gathering for the glass community to come together and showcase the work of emerging and innovative practice in the field of glass. Again, Dan’s passion for glass and the relationships he had developed over the years, resulted in a staggering array of leading names in contemporary glass from the USA, Australia and Europe visiting this remote part of Scotland over the years, to teach and speak at the summer masterclasses and forum. In 2006 Dan also organised an exhibition of North Lands’ Collection at National Museum Scotland to mark 10 years since its inauguration.
Dan’s legacy of championing and making contemporary glass accessible continues to this day, where at the National Glass Centre, Sunderland the University of Sunderland’s Glass department is still based, and they are currently celebrating the 21st anniversary of the opening of the centre; to North Lands Creative who continue to be a creative hub to inspire, develop, support and showcase the best in contemporary glass from across the globe. Here at the National Museum of Scotland, a selection of his and Alan’s collection can be viewed within our Making & Creating gallery, and can be seen in full via our online collections portal.
I feel very honoured to have met Dan as a young curator whilst I was at the National Glass Centre, Sunderland. He was always so generous with his time and knowledge, regularly willing and happy to loan pieces from his and Alan’s personal collection for an exhibition; or offering guidance on a potential artist we should consider supporting. His books sit upon my bookshelf, they are a constant reference point for the development of Glass as an art form in the 20th century, and I’m now part of a team that has the responsibility for the care of his amazing collection. It wasn’t until I first came into contact with the collection, when I co-curated an exhibition that featured part of his and Alan’s collection for the re-opening of the National Glass Centre in 2013, that I realised how many he had supported through his patronage over the years.
Some of my personal favourites from the collection include Southern Spring by Galia Amsel, Sculpture of cast glass by Colin Reid, Bottle by Sam Herman, and Rocket Boy by Karen Akester.
The Dan Klein & Alan J. Poole Private Collection of Modern Glass spans fifty years, with some of the earliest pieces dating from the start of the Studio Glass Movement in the 1960s, and represents some of the most significant names to have been based within Britain and Ireland in the studio and art glass world. Artists such as Sam Herman, Pauline Solven, Clifford Rainey, Karen Akester, Galia Amsel, Colin Reid, Keith Cummings, Anna Dickinson, Stephen Procter, Angela Jarman and Richard Meitner to name just a few. They acquired pieces at exhibitions, graduate shows and directly from the artists themselves. This is a testament to both their passion and their commitment to glass as an artform.
The collection also includes some pieces specially made as gifts highlighting how much these artists not only came to respect but love these two great men. One of the gifts that makes me smile each time I see it in the stores is a wee doorstop made by Annette Meech, and is engraved on the base Dan Klein’s Doorstop!!
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Alan for his continued support and generosity to the Museum; often helping when I’m trying to track down an artist and promoting our activities in glass, and for reading and contributing images to this memorial to Dan.