Art Ltd.


Art of GLASS
by ruth reader
Mar 2012

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Dangerous Toys Elements (The City)
(From the exhibit "Emerge 2012")
Carole Hutchison and William Hutchison
Cast glass, dimensions variable
Photo: courtesy Bullseye Gallery, Portland

Lino Tagliapietra
Blown glass, 18" x 20" x 8"
Photo: Russell Johnson, courtesy Pismo Fine Art Glass, Denver

When graduate student Clayton Bailey accompanied his ceramics professor Harvey Littleton from Madison, Wisconsin to Toledo, Ohio to assist him in a glass blowing workshop, he had no idea this event would serve as the foundation for the studio glass movement. That was in the spring of 1962. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Studio Glass in America. According to the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass (AACG), more than 160 venues are committed to honoring the anniversary with a range of events. Museum exhibitions, panel discussions, and workshops will examine glass history in the United States through the work of its most accomplished artists. The onslaught of studio glass shows will not be limited to masters of the form, like Dale Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra, but also include work by more contemporary artists, like Beth Lipman. And the displays will vary in theme, giving museum goers an opportunity to check out individual artists and see how studio glass has progressed from a technique to an art form diversified beyond the vessel. 

On their first day at the Toledo Museum of Art in the spring of 1962, Bailey and Littleton arrived to find their workshop space: a small concrete storage shed with a gas hook-up. They set about building a rudimentary pot-furnace modeled after the one that Littleton had set up in his Madison garage. To honor the 50th anniversary of these workshops, the Toledo Museum of Art is inviting three artists to build a Littleton-inspired furnace and create their own work in a similarly sparse environment. Museum visitors can watch the artists at work from March 27-30 during regular museum hours. The workshop will culminate with artists giving a lecture on their resulting artwork. It's fair to expect the new work will differ from Littleton's rough products. The original crew had no prior glass making know-how. "It was very difficult," says Bailey, "Most [glass bubbles] cracked because we didn't know how to anneal them, so most cup size pieces of glass always broke. People were making bubbles 12 inches, but they were very thin and they would pop." Prior to 1960, glass making was largely done in factories with teams of glass blowers. Littleton was exposed to industrial glassmaking as a child. His father, Jesse Littleton, was the physicist who developed the borosilicate glassware known as Pyrex.

Despite his glass fascination, Littleton pursued ceramics. He began teaching at the Toledo Museum of Art School and later served as professor of ceramics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. During his years at the University of Wisconsin, he built a crude furnace in his garage and began experimenting with melting glass. A few years later the Toledo Museum of Art Director, Otto Wittmann, offered Littleton the opportunity to host a glass-blowing workshop. About eight or nine students attended the original workshop. Bailey says he remembers being impressed with the ancient glass artwork--including works from Syria and Egypt--on display at Toledo. "The first workshop focused on primitive technology and trying to emulate it," says Jutta-Annette Page, curator of glass art at the Toledo Museum of Art. Page explains that many of the initial student works were heavily textured like coke bottles and Tiffany lamps, quite like the works they were trying to replicate.

While Clayton Bailey, now a retired professor emeritus in ceramics at University of California Hayward, did not make a career in glass art, many of his peers did. Among the most prominent is Dale Chihuly. In addition to his prolific glass art sculptures, Chihuly is the founder of Pilchuck Glass School, an international hub for glass training. He is also set to open Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center in collaboration with the Wright Family, owners of the Space Needle. The nine-gallery center will showcase the breadth of Chihuly's work. His vibrantly colored art pieces range from soaring glass sculptures and chandeliers to smaller coral and sponge shaped work. Unsurprisingly, he will be widely represented among the art exhibits honoring studio glass in 2012. Among those exhibitions is the Crocker Art Museum's comprehensive "Red Hot and Blown," a tribute to glass art over the last 50 years. The exhibit, which runs from March 17 to September 23, will cover blown, kiln-form, cast, assembled, and painted glass artworks. "Red Hot and Blown" will also feature work from contemporary glass artists Therman Statom, known for his oversized glass installations and Nancy Mee. Both the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida and the Fort Collins Museum of Art in Colorado will show Chihuly in exhibitions on display until May 27 and March 18, respectively.

A number of museums will pull together glass exhibitions from their own collections. The Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois is hosting "Fifty Years: Contemporary American Glass from Illinois Collections," which will display work by Chihuly, Statom, and Littleton, among others. In California, the Palm Springs Art Museum's Kaplan/Ostergaard Glass Center shows a comprehensive mix of contemporary glasswork that again covers many of the studio glass stalwarts. Among them is Venetian glass artist Lino Tagliapietra, whose work represents the international influence on America's studio glass movement. Tagliapietra first apprenticed in a glass factory in the historically rich Murano, Italy, and worked his way up to Maestro. After Chihuly caught wind of his talents, Tagliapietra came to teach at the Pilchuck Glass School in 1979. Clearly influenced by classic Venetian design, Tagliapietra's blown glass works are reminiscent of the mythical Veronese Vase's bulbous contours. His vibrant use of color, so rich that it appears textured, mimics the Murano technique known as millefiori. From July 14 -- January 6, 2013, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington will take an in-depth look at his work in their exhibit "Lino Tagliapietra: from Murano to Studio Glass." Another of Littleton's students, Marvin Lipofsky, will get his due at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles during their fall exhibition "Glass' Big Bang," running from September 30 -- January 6, 2013. Liposky founded the glass program at the CCAC (now the CCA) in San Francisco in 1967; the show will focus on the studio glass movement in California.

Many of the studio glass celebratory exhibitions are retrospective and champion pioneers of the field. But glass art has transitioned over the years from cultivating glass as artistic technique to employing it as a mode of expression. "I think the most exciting thing and the most important outcome [of the studio glass movement], is that it made glass a viable option for artists, even if they don't traditionally work with glass," says Toledo's Page. "There are places that people can go if they have ideas and they wanted to realize them in glass. That would not have been possible in the 1960s." An increasing number of glass artists are using glass to represent artistic thought as opposed to glass craftsmanship. "There are still vessel makers and very successful vessel makers. But I think the biggest change has been conceptual," Page says.

"Glass' Big Bang" will honor the founding fathers of glass art as well as the contemporary artists who have succeeded them and made strides in the field. Among the latter group is Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, a contemporary glass artist based in Ojai, California who paints on glass. Using glass sheets as a canvas, Stinsmuehlen-Amend uses powdered colored glass called "frit" to paint her multilayered paintings. Not bound by medium, she often uses metal and wood to augment her paintings. In addition to showing her work at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, Stinsmuehlen-Amend will take part in the Pilchuck hosted panel discussion titled, "50 years of Studio Glass: Past, Present, and Future," at the Palm Springs Art Museum on March 3.

Stinsmuehlen-Amend is one of a growing group of glass artists who are more concerned with concept than craft. "The first question they used to ask was 'How did you make that?'" says Jim Baker, Director of Pilchuck Glass School. "The question that is being asked more often is 'Why did you make that?' That is not a question that has been typically asked," says Baker. 

Another glass artist to make her mark on the contemporary glass stage is Beth Lipman, whose sprawling hand-blown still-life sculptures address opulent decadence. "She's taking 17th-century paintings and translating that into the fragility of glass, which is wonderful reference--the fragility of life," Page says. "I particularly like her work, because it is evolving. I think it's another step into a much, much larger sphere that is not confined to small installations. I greatly admire artists who have the guts to explore and continue." Lipman's work The Bride, which will be on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art for their exhibition "Fusion," is a glass sculpture divided into five tiers, like a wedding cake. On each tier is a grotesque mess of hand-blown plates and wine glasses, pitchers and vases. Her work will be appearing in at least four shows around the country, including "Fusion," June 14 -- September 9; "Glimmering Gone" at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, through March 11; "The Tool at Hand" at the Milwaukee Art Museum, through April 1; and "Glasstress New York: New Art from the Venice Biennale" at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, which will run through June 10. Unconcerned with showcasing the craft behind glass, Lipman uses mixed media to address concepts. Baker says for glass artists like Lipman, the use of glass is becoming more of an afterthought. "They're great artists," he says. "Oh yeah, and they work with glass."

Within that context, some glass artists are taking an even larger step beyond the vessel and into design. More and more artists are shifting back to the medium's industrial roots and crafting artful glass products. "Before if you had a line of dinnerware or something you wanted to design or make you had to go through a fabrication company," says Michael Endo, lead curator at Bullseye Gallery in Portland, Oregon. "But what's different now, because of access to materials, is that you can make a design and produce it in your home." Highlighting this trend, Bullseye plans to do an exchange project next year with Slovenia's Designer of the Year, Tanja Pak, and possibly an exhibition. Her line "Lake," an artful set of glass bowls, plates, and cups rippled like water, exemplifies how glass artists are melding art concepts with design functionality. Until then, Bullseye is busy identifying the latest talent in kiln-form glass for their biennial competition "Emerge 2012"--works will be on view from April 4 -- June 23. A pared-down version of the show will travel to the New Mexico Museum of Art, along with chosen works from "Evolve: Past Award Winners -- Emerge 2002-2010" (May 5 -- June 30), for a fall exhibition.

Scott Shields, the Crocker Art Museum's chief curator, thinks glass artists re-engaging with design is an indication that the movement has come full circle. "People spent so much time separating themselves, so that their artwork could be appreciated on its own and there really shouldn't be boundaries there," he says of glass art and design. The Crocker showcase "Red Hot and Blown" will spotlight 25 artists from their glass art collection, accrued over the last 50 years. The exhibit will examine the breadth of glass artwork available today. In addition to early masters of the form like Marvin Lipofsky, the exhibit includes more recent work from mixed media artists like Paul di Pasqua, who composes intricate sculptures out of found objects. One element in the exhibition Shields hopes will shine through to patrons is how mutable glass is as a medium. "I think that's what the studio glass movement can show you," says Shields. "There's no consistency in the work produced. It's as diverse as the artists who create it."