Robert H Fraser 1868 – 1947
Robert Fraser was born in Dunedin, he attended the Dunedin School of Art and then worked as a glazier at Smith & Smith Ltd. from 1885.
In 1889, following his interest in interior design and stained glass, his mother took him to London, where he studied at the ‘National Art Training School’ (it became the Royal College of Art) in South Kensington, London, regarded at the time as ‘the finest industrial art college in the world’. He also trained as a glass painter while in London, however, by 1893 Robert Fraser was back in Dunedin, offering services in a wide range of decorative arts that were popular with the ‘Victorians’ at the time.
Fraser designed and patented his own kiln to fire painted glass and began to produce distinctive and elaborate stained glass windows for the wealthy clients who were building mansions around the inner city. Taking advantage of the depression years, wealthy citizens in Dunedin often employed artists such as Fraser at rock-bottom prices.
He was a talented artist and his early domestic windows cover an eclectic range of subjects, some including quite grotesque characters. Fraser’s clients often asked for custom-designed windows relating to their family background. Fraser was accomplished in portraiture and specialised in nature and seascape. A distinctive feature is his use of gold-pink roundels, and he often used elaborate acid-etching techniques to give layered effects with his antique glass.
He tried working for several different companies, but eventually ran his own business. In 1907 he won the gold medal for the ‘Highest Award for Ecclesiastical and Domestic Stained Glass Glasswork’ in the New Zealand International Exhibition held at Christchurch. This award was in competition with imported European windows and his artistic ability was then increasingly sought after. But during times of economic downturn, with two world wars and the 1930s depression, Fraser had to undertake a wide variety of decorative work to survive. He embossed windows, made glass memorial plaques and plaster models of soldiers killed in World War 1, produced posters, tinted photographs and painted friezes in picture theatres. He also taught evening classes at the Dunedin School of Art. Fraser’s work, ‘in traditional Victorian style’, can be found in many churches from Auckland to Invercargill.
Before he retired he had time to give Roy Miller a few months tuition in stained glass techniques.
Although Robert Fraser had become ‘the greatest exponent of his art in New Zealand,’ his death certificate simply says, ‘retired lead-lightworker’.