2012 Essay | From Technique to Artistic Expression to Acceptance in Art and Design World

2012 Essay | From Technique to Artistic Expression to Acceptance in Art and Design World

Celebrating 50 Years of the American Studio Glass Movement

SOFA CHICAGO 2012 is the world hot spot for international studio glass art.  The American Studio Glass Movement is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year and the acclaimed art and design fair at Navy Pier will be center-stage. 

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the intersection of art and design than the American Studio Glass Movement, which had its humble beginnings in a storage shed on the grounds of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio, in 1962 with two historic workshops organized by Harvey K. Littleton, a ceramics professor at the University of Wisconsin, and Dominick Labino, research scientist and vice president of Toledo’s Johns-Mansville glass plant.

Dale Chihuly at Pilchuck
Dale Chihuly teaching at Pilchuck Glass School

After visiting the many glass factories on the island of Murano in Italy, Littleton was intrigued by the small, outside furnaces manned by factory glassblowers demonstrating their craft for tourists.  He realized that glassblowing could be taken out of its multi-process, industrial setting with its division of design and labor, into the independent artist’s studio.  After experimenting with his own glassblowing, Littleton enlisted the technical assistance of Labino to organize two groundbreaking, week-long workshops at the Museum. 

Dale Chihuly at Pilchuck
Harvey K. Littleton
Maurine Littleton Gallery

SOFA CHICAGO 2012 dealer Maurine Littleton (Maurine Littleton Gallery, Washington, DC), daughter of Harvey Littleton, explains, “My father was in a unique position. He grew up in Corning, New York, where my grandfather was the Director of Research for Corning Glass Works who developed Pyrex glass. Dad loved glass as a child and had cast glass in an experimental lab at Corning. He later made major connections at the Toledo Museum of Art, teaching at the museum school while working for his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art. He was also familiar with kiln building and formulating glazes as a potter, and he had learned the politics of craft1 as a ceramics teacher, becoming a trustee of the American Craft Council. All it took then was great passion and determination and his inexhaustible energy to breathe the art of studio glass into being.”

The revolutionizing 1962 workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art demonstrated that small, inexpensive glass furnaces could be built which would allow artists to blow glass independently.  Proof of this was Littleton’s own development as an artist, using simple forms to foreground a complex interplay of transparency with multiple overlays of color.

Toots Zynsky
Toots Zynsky, David Richard Gallery

Maurine Littleton reports that half her SOFA CHICAGO booth space will feature “a selection of rarely seen (and first-time offered) pieces” by her father, including a “spectacular example” from his signature Arc series entitled Yellow Crown II (1984), direct from its exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin.  Littleton says it is the only one of its type still available; similar works can be found at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery of the American Art Museum and in major national public and private art collections.

Richard Jolley
Richard Jolley
Scott Jacobson Gallery
Littleton became an effective advocate for establishing courses of study in glass at university art departments, himself establishing the first such program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There he taught such glass art luminaries as Dale Chihuly  (Litvak Gallery, Tel Aviv; Wexler Gallery, Philadelphia; and Donna Schneier Fine Arts, New York & Palm Beach) and Marvin Lipofsky (Duane Reed Gallery, St. Louis, MO), who in turn established glass programs at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and UCLA-Berkeley and California College of Arts and Crafts respectively. 

The early years of the American Studio Glass Movement were heady and exciting.  Chihuly had many student protégés in the late 1960s and ‘70s at RISD, among them Howard Ben Tré (Habatat Galleries, Royal Oak, MI and Wexler Gallery), Michael Glancy (Wexler Gallery), Flora Mace (Donna Schneier Fine Arts), Fritz Dreisbach (Maurine Littleton Gallery), and Therman Statom (Maurine Littleton Gallery). Statom bribed the security guards at RISD to keep the hot shop lights on 24/7! Another early student of Chihuly’s was Toots Zynsky (David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe, NM), widely known for her distinctive heat-formed filet de verre (glass thread) vessels (a technique she invented!) Zynsky remembers, “Glassmaking was wide open (then).  Everything was possible, and there was so much to be discovered. There were no rules. You could do anything you wanted.”2 Another seminal founding father of the Movement, Benjamin Moore agreed: “When I took my very first glass class from Marvin Lipofsky, he did a demonstration and then handed you a blowpipe and said, ‘Blow glass’…There was just a no-holds-barred attitude to using glass as a sculptural medium.”3

Dan Dailey
Dan Dailey, Habatat Galleries

Chihuly recalls those early years at RISD as “the most creative, highly charged institutional experience I’d ever been a part of.” His first graduate student was Muranese-trained artist/designer Dan Dailey (Habatat Galleries), known for his vibrant, whimsical sculptures in glass and metal, who himself went on to found the glass program at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.  One of Dailey’s students, Mary Van Cline (Scott Jacobson Gallery, New York) began to print photographs on glass in ethereal, architectural tableaus; and Mary Shaffer (Habatat Galleries) drove nails through laminated sheets of glass in her conceptually ground-breaking series Don’t Break the Glass, later developing the slumping technique. Shaffer said of those early years, “It was like skiing down a virgin slope.  Every possibility was open to me.” 4Richard Jolley (Scott Jacobson Gallery) invented the technique of modeling hot glass with a propane torch adding a Matisse-like fluidity to his figurative sculpture.  Jolley echoes Shaffer— “It’s always a matter of pushing the boundaries.”5

Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly, Litvak Gallery

Litvak Gallery, a favorite at SOFA fairs for its stunning booth designs, will offer a presentation of work by Dale Chihuly from his White series, which combine up to a dozen different types of whites: opaque, transparent, translucent, and alabaster variations. Miles of glass threads were pulled in Chihuly’s hotshop to accomplish this, resulting in an incredible massing of a single color, part random pattern, part spontaneous drawing finished with a delicate, silver-like reduction.

Orit Ephrat-Moscovitz of Litvak Gallery says, “As an artist, Chihuly stands at the forefront of studio glass. With his groundbreaking sculptures and installations, he has challenged the boundary between art and craft and has spearheaded the acceptance of art glass worldwide.  Every serious art collection, whether private or public, includes a Chihuly.”

Marvin Lipofsky
Marvin Lipofsky, Duane Reed Gallery

Duane Reed Gallery will represent Marvin Lipofsky, whose colorful, gestural yet ephemeral sculptural “broken bubble” forms have earned him a position as one of glass art’s boldest innovators.  Principal among Lipofsky’s early students was Richard Marquis (Wexler Gallery), who was among the first American glass artists to use Viennese canework and murrine techniques in his colorful and often trenchantly humorous objects.

Despite all the exhilarating artistic and technical exploration going on in the early years of the Movement, there was a drawback as Benjamin Moore explains: “Everybody was self-taught, but it was kind of limited technically because all you could do was figure out as much as what you could figure out, and then that was that. There were no master craftsmen to show people how to make things.”6

Lino Tagliapietra and Dante Marioni
Lino Tagliapietra and Dante Marioni at
Pilchuck Glass School

Early glass artists looked to Europe for technical advice.  The center of this discovery was Pilchuck Glass School in Stanford, WA, co-founded by Dale Chihuly in 1971. In 1968, after receiving a Fulbright Fellowship, he went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice where he observed the team approach to blowing glass, which, with a reciprocal nod to the old glass houses of Europe, he himself adopted after suffering a series of injuries including the loss of one eye: “Once I stepped back,” he explains, “I enjoyed the view.”7 As Chihuly traveled, he promoted what was going on in the US, convincing many established European glass artists to teach at Pilchuck, from Scandinavia’s Bertil Vallien and Ann Wolff (Habatat Galleries and Wexler Gallery), known for their spare sculptural aesthetic and sand-blasting technique; to the decorative blown glass masters of Murano, Italy, revered for their classical vessel forms, lush colors and intricate surface treatments.

Principal among these Italians was Lino Tagliapietra (Schantz Galleries, Stockbridge, MA), a maestri vetraio in the Muranese factory system, who taught at the school in 1979. Revealing highly-guarded and prized Venetian glassblowing secrets, Tagliapietra vigorously expanded the Movement’s technical range, influencing a second generation of artists like Dante Marioni (Blue Rain Gallery, Santa Fe, NM), Australia’s Nick Mount (Riley Galleries, Cleveland, OH), and Jay MacDonnell (Option Art, Montreal), who in turn added to Pilchuck’s growing reputation as the “Venice of the West.” 

 Tagliapietra’s experience at Pilchuck liberated a powerful creative force within him and he went on to become one of the world’s most highly acclaimed artists working in glass.  Jim Schantz says of his SOFA CHICAGO presentation of Lino’s new Burano Series: “This past year, Lino’s passion for his art has driven him to create large-scale fused glass panels, using various forms of his own hand-pulled canes, murrini, rondelle and glass pellets.  Some of the one- to two-inch thick panels measure up to eight feet tall.  While the maestro is adept at incorporating abstract graphic visuals within his sculptural vessel forms, to some viewers the artist’s compositional lyricism may be more evident in these ‘paintings’ in glass.”

Vladimira Klumpar
Vladimira Klumpar, Wexler Gallery

Schantz continues, “It’s fitting that Lino debuts Burano at SOFA CHICAGO with the advent of the 50th anniversary of American Studio Glass, for he has greatly inspired glass artists not only in America, but around the world with his generous teachings and virtuoso art.”
Showcasing the rich history of Venetian glass at the fair is new dealer, Mark Helliar Vintage Murano Glass (Los Angeles, CA and Kent, England) offering Italian and Murano glass artistry by the likes of giants Archimedes Seguso and Paolo Venini!

Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová
Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, Litvak Gallery

From Czechoslovakia, Americans learned rich bohemian glass traditions but more critically, the technique of kiln-formed glass and the possibilities of open sculptural form epitomized by Stanislav Libenský and his life partner, Jaroslava Brychtová (Litvak Gallery and Wexler Gallery), who were perhaps the first ever to use cast glass as a sculptural medium, often working in large-scale.  Soon other Czech artists rose to the fore celebrating cast glass’ tactile ephemerality and intensity of colored light such as Vaclav Cigler (Litvak Gallery), Frantisek Vizner and Vladimira Klumpar (both Wexler Gallery). Acclaimed second generation Czech artists to be presented at the fair include Ivana Šrámková (Heller Gallery, New York) and Stephen Pala and Zora Palová (Litvak Gallery). 

Just as Americans were interested in the classical approaches and techniques of the Europeans, Europeans readily embraced the Americans’ way of working without preconceived ideas. The cross-cultural exchange was mutual and soon the American Studio Glass Movement quickly spread not only to Europe but around the world. Savvy dealers began opening store-front galleries to sell glass art. One of the earliest was Habatat Galleries in Royal Oak, MI, a suburb of Detroit, which opened in 1971.  In 1972 the gallery debuted its prestigious inaugural National Glass Invitational Exhibit and 25 years ago, expanded it to include international glass art. This year marked its 40th annual exhibit.

Klaus Moje
Klaus Moje, Heller Gallery

Ferdinand Hampson, Founder and President of Habatat Galleries says, “Credit for the growth and success of glass as an art medium belongs to the participants: the galleries, artists, collectors and museums like Corning Museum of Glass, who were incredibly supportive. The artists came to trust the galleries and explore the material beyond what even the most optimistic observer could imagine. Collectors fueled this with their excitement, developing knowledge and of course their willingness to spend money! Museums, most of whom were less than responsive early on, sanctioned many glass artists with major acquisitions and exhibitions.”

Douglas Heller says, “The Heller Gallery has existed for forty of the fifty years of the American Studio Glass Movement and evolved along with the field.  Like the work it exhibits, the gallery has grown from a modest beginning, to a significant enterprise known around the world. Clearly, over four decades things have changed. With the exception of the medium itself, much of the work we presently exhibit bears little resemblance to what was exhibited in the 1970s and 1980s.  Artists have become much more sophisticated, both in the handling of the material and in the concepts they explore.  Today, American studio glass blowers rate as some of the best in the world and many are successfully creating seductive objects aimed at collectors.”

Heller notes, “Increasingly, glass makers are finding a place in the contemporary design world, some executing their own concepts, and others interfacing with designers on products and special projects. There are also a significant number of academically trained artists working with glass who have a pure, fine art approach. Increasing numbers of them are finding acceptance in galleries as astute dealers see their economic potential.” 

The artists Heller Gallery is presenting in this year’s SOFA CHICAGO exemplify how great the reach of glass currently is, hailing from the United States, Germany, The Czech Republic, Ireland and Australia. Their styles and approaches are as diverse as the countries they come from and include Klaus Moje's fusing, Ivana Šrámková's and Norman Mooney’s casting, Marc Petrovic's blowing, and Sibylle Peretti's mixed media work.

Other major international glass artists to be presented at SOFA CHICAGO include Italy’s Lume virtuoso Lucio Bubacco (Litvak Gallery) and lamp-work impresario Davide Salvatore (Habatat Galleries); Japan’s Hiroshi Yamano (Riley Galleries), known for his thickly blown glass fused with gold, silver and copper; Kimiake Higuchi’s (Wexler Gallery) contemplative pate de verre; Germany’s Julius Weiland’s intricate, fused glass tube sculptures and the Netherland’s Peter Bremers’ kiln-cast, undulating organic forms (Litvak Gallery); and Canada’s Susan Rankin’s voluptuous vessels wrapped in vines, leaves and flowers  (Option Art).

Rising international stars represented at the fair include: Edmond Byrne (flow, London), a recent Royal College of Art graduate earning acclaim for his challenging, unique, mold-formed glass; Niyoko Ikuta (Floating World Gallery, Chicago) who captures complex reflecting and refracting light passing through broken cross sections of sheet glass; Jessamy Kelly (Craft Scotland, Edinburgh), remarkable for combining glass and ceramics (very hard to mix!) in unique forms that reference Galloway, Scotland’s rugged landscape; Japan’s Yukako Kojima (Palette Contemporary Art & Craft, Albuquerque, NM) whose geometric shapes of high-polished, layered laminated sheet glass (Safety Glass) are Zen-like in serenity; Australian-trained Japanese Takemura Yusuke (Kirra Galleries, Melbourne, Australia) who cuts holes into blown glass vessels (a laborious process!), grinding the perforated surface, blurring void and transparency; glass “wheat grass’ blowing in the wind (not really!) by newcomer Jean-Pierre Canlis (PISMO Fine Art Glass, Denver, Aspen and Vail, CO); and young Amber Cowan (Heller Gallery) who recycles American molded glass knickknacks from the 1940s-80s into sculptures fraught with femininity (and a dash of danger!)

Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová
Preston Singletary and Dante Marioni
Blue Rain Gallery

Non-Eurocentric glass art has become an increasingly important idiom for the American Studio Glass Movement. Leading the way was William Morris (Hawk Galleries, Riley Galleries, Wexler Gallery, Donna Schneier Fine Art), who was Dale Chihuly’s gaffer in the 1980s.  Morris began producing his own work in the 90s that reflected his interest in archeology and ancient pagan cultures, known for their “aged” surface textures.  Blue Rain Gallery will present renowned Pueblo potter and sculptor, Tammy Garcia, who has forged new paths in glass and bronze that signal a distinct change of direction within the larger contemporary Native American sculpture arena. And Preston Singletary renowned for melding Tlingit Native American narratives with sophisticated glassblowing, sand-carving and inlaying. At SOFA, Blue Rain will showcase a collaboration between Singletary and Venetian glass-blowing inspired Dante Marioni, who adds elegant attenuation to the mix.  Duane Reed Gallery showcases the African-inspired sculptural objects of Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman that embody mythological stories in glass. Duncan McClellan’s (Sherrie Gallerie, Columbus, OH) cold-carved, iconographic symbols and scenes seem to reference another world entirely.

Today, glass art centers exist in almost every major city in the world, principal among them is UrbanGlass of New York, which will be exhibiting at SOFA and devoting its entire booth to jewelers working in glass in unique, innovative ways, including the edgy work of (Charlene) Foster & (Regina Rose) Malone.  University degree-granting programs in glass flourish in more than thirty countries and galleries and museums like the seminal Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY are entirely dedicated to the medium. A SOFA CHICAGO favorite, Corning’s Hot Glass Roadshow returns to the showfloor for on-going hot glassblowing demonstrations featuring master glassblowers from the Corning Museum of Art and top SOFA-represented glass artists.

At SOFA CHICAGO, collectors and visitors alike will be awed by the comprehensive survey of international glass art that owes its very existence as well as stature to the American Studio Glass Movement, born in the humblest of circumstances and spread by infectious enthusiasm and good will. Distinguished by its unparalleled sharing of knowledge across borders which would not be possible in industry, the Movement forged not only an art form but a global community.

Douglas Heller sums up the next 50 years and beyond: “For years, pundits have predicted the ultimate success of the studio glass movement would be its absorption into the larger worlds of art and design. As the use of glass continues to expand into new and unexpected directions, one can be confident that the potential of this ancient material is an infinite as that of the human minds which continuously finds new ways to use it.”

For a birds-eye view of the American Studio Glass Movement’s revolutionary development and influence, don’t miss the SOFA CHICAGO lecture: Studio Glass Movement: A Driver’s Manual, featuring Stuart Kestenbaum, Director, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts; Jean McLaughlin, Ex. Director, Penland School of Crafts; and James Baker, Director, Pilchuck Glass School.

Littleton’s off-hand comment, “Technique is cheap,” at a 1972 National Sculpture Conference touched off a heated debate: Should technique or content take precedence in glass art?

U.S Studio Art Glass, Before and After Chihuly, Collectors Weekly, Maribeth Keane and Brad Quinn, April 2, 2012

http://www.maryshaffer.com/kingsley.html, Pioneer, by April Kingsley, Director Kreesge Art Museum

U.S Studio Art Glass, Before and After Chihuly, Collectors Weekly, Maribeth Keane and Brad Quinn, April 2, 2012

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