Michael Harris

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wikicollecting

2015-06-26 10:40:15

Michael Harris is a British glassmaker.

He is best known for founding Maltese Glass Industries (later Mdina Glass) and reviving the glassmaking industry with his imaginative and experimental wares. Bored by conservative glassmaking techniques in the UK in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Michael Harris, a lecturer in industrial glass at the Royal College of Art, decided to experiment with glass production.

Inspired by Scandinavian glass designers and their free-form wares, Harris began to fantasise about founding a one-man business, which would produce exciting, imaginative glass in earnest.

Tax breaks led to Michael deciding to move to the British protectorate of Malta and found his fledgling business there. The country was seeking to attract skilled trades-people and build its commercial viability, and Michael grabbed to opportunity to move to the holiday isle with both hands.

In 1967, Michael and his colleague Eric Dobson, transported an enormous amount of glassmaking equipment to Malta. By 1968, Michael had established and furnished his glassmaking studio – Maltese Glass Industries, or Mdina Glass as it later became known.

The glassworks was an immediate success, proving particularly popular among tourists and souvenir hunters. Michael took on a number of Maltese nationals, teaching them glassmaking. His guiding statement – “you may like what you do today, but our best work will be done tomorrow” – may be understood as inspirational or annoying, depending on your outlook, however, Michael’s staff appeared to tend toward the former, quickly learning their trade and relishing in their new skills.

Sadly, soon after, a new, nationalist Maltese government pressured Michael to leave Malta, wanting to eradicate British influence on the island.

Michael Harris designs were free form and very colourful.

After Harris left Mdina, levels of artistry diminished. Michael’s original designs were continued, though very few alterations or developments made. This can make dating Michael Harris glass tricky.

Those items which were made over and over after Michael left Malta are naturally worth significantly less than items produced in small numbers while he was resident on the island.

Iconic shapes, including Michael’s famous “fish” vase, also known as “Axe Head”, the “Tricorn” vase, the “Attenuated Bottle” vase, the “Japanese Vase” and the “Minaret” vase should not be ignored – especially if signed. Michael was always reluctant to sign his work, so the rarity of his signature alone will significantly increase the value of his signed pieces by a factor of five on average. All of these shapes are wonderfully documented in the definitive book by Mark Hill entitled 'Michael Harris: Mdina Glass and Isle of Wight Studio Glass'.

The market place is beginning to recognize Michael's unique contribution to the development and success of British studio art glass, albeit that he had to venture all the way to Malta to prove it could be successful.

Price guide

A signed Mdina art glass "Fish" vase sold for $600 at Don Presley Auctions in June 2011.

An abstract glass form signed by Michael Harris sold for $275 at William J Jenack in June 2004.

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