Forged in the Glass City
The Glass Arts Society Conference returns to the “Cradle of Studio Glass”
Please see photo credits at end of article
Photo by ALex Beat
Before 1962, glassworking existed almost exclusively in the hands of scientists, engineers, and manufacturers. Some glass art was created in the 1940s and 1950s, but generally, the only place to find a furnace hot enough to manipulate glass was in a factory setting. The process involved several people working in tandem. The revolution in glass blowing began with a ceramics instructor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Harvey Littleton grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and was the son of Dr. Jesse Littleton, the inventor of Pyrex, which we all know and love,” explains Baker O’Brien, a glass artisan from Grand Rapids, Ohio. “Harvey became a ceramics teacher at the University of Wisconsin, but still had an interest in glass. He had this idea that if a potter could have a kiln in his backyard, then why not (allow a glassblower to have) a glass furnance?”
Littleton began teaching ceramics courses at the Toledo Museum of Art in the 1950’s, and in 1962 he approached Otto Wittmann, the museum’s director, about having a glassblowing workshop to experiment with the idea of one person creating glass alone. Such a thing had never been done before, and none of the students knew what would come out of the endeavor. One of those students, Edith Franklin, remembers that first class, which was held in a garage on the museum grounds. “I was taking pottery classes at the museum at the time, and our teacher was Norman Schulman. Norm told me the museum was going to start teaching glass. ‘Ahh,’ says I, ‘I’d like to take that.’ But no. I was told it was limited to university pottery instructors. But about a week before the class was to start, Norm came up to me and said they couldn’t fill the class. So I paid $50 and joined.”
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of that experimental workshop which explored creating studio blown glass as a reality. Milestones were reached, friends were made, and, ultimately, a movement was sparked. The Glass City will commemorate the half century since that artistic breakthrough, hosting the 2012 Glass Art Society Conference June 13-16.
Accounts on how many students attended the workshop (there were two sessions, one in March and one in June 1962) vary from six to as many as a dozen, but what is agreed upon is that two men were instrumental in the workshop’s results: Dominick “Nick” Labino and Harvey Leafgreen. The group of instructors and students built a small brick furnace but quickly realized they could not get it hot enough to melt the batch of glass chemicals that Littleton had supplied. “Nick developed glass for Johns-Manville in Waterville, and he suggested they use #475 glass marbles which he had developed to make fiberglass,” tells Baker O’Brien, Labino’s former apprentice. “The glass melted and it was malleable.” All that was missing was technique. Franklin recounts, “That class was the only class I ever took where no one knew anything. They all knew glass, had seen it melted, but no one could get a bubble and keep it. On the last day, Mr. Leafgreen arrived from a lecture at the museum. He was an old man and had been a glassblower at Libbey. That day he came in, gathered up his glass, and blew a bubble. Then he moved his thumb over the pipe, trapping the air inside his bubble. There it was: the first bubble.”
The birth of a movement
Harvey Littleton returned to the University of Wisconsin where he set up the world’s first glass blowing program at the post-secondary level. “He did a lot for education, and the art really grew in that first ten years,” says O’Brien. The field became a worldwide phenomenon, with the Glass Art Society— an international non-profit now based in Seattle — convening for the first time in 1971. TMA hosted bi-annual glass exhibitions from 1966 to 1972.
O’Brien, who was not present at that first workshop, is an heir to its legacy. Labino took an early retirement and built one of the first glass blowing workshops. He built that first studio outside of Grand Rapids. During the late 1970s, he took on O’Brien as an apprentice, then a young metalworking artist completing her work-study from Antioch College. Today, operating in Labino’s studio, O’Brien is one of only a few studio glass artisans that works with homemade glass. “What Nick did is different from what 99.9% of the studios do today. He mixed color into the batch from scratch. This was before prefab glass powder; he actually made his own glass. That’s why his glass, and the glass I make, looks different from all the other glass out there.”
Though some of her pieces from that pioneering workshop are on display in the museum’s Glass Pavilion, Franklin did not pursue glass blowing as a career, choosing instead to continue on as a potter. She was, however, instrumental in the formation of the Toledo Glass Guild along with Labino and a city worker named Dick Boers. Franklin was very involved in a potter’s guild and knew that many artists wanted to blow glass but could not afford to enroll in a class or to have their own furnace. Franklin and Boers talked to Labino, and he designed a furnace, which is still available for Guild artists, at the Toledo Botanical Gardens.
The first fifty years
It has been fifty years since that first workshop, and its accomplishments will be celebrated at the forefront of this year’s conference. “It is a very rare thing to know exactly where and when an art form began,” says TMA’s Curator of Glass and Decorative
Arts Jutta-Annette Page. “But in this case, we know exactly where and when studio blown glass started. The idea came together in Toledo. This is the intellectual home and conceptual birthplace for studio glass. That’s why so many people are coming to this year’s conference.”
The 2012 GAS Conference will feature lectures, tours, demonstrations, exhibitions, auctions, and activities for both GAS members and the general public at the Glass Pavillion, SeaGate Convention Centre, and Huntington Center. (For listings, see pull out.). Highlighting the festivities are a detailed re-creation of the original brick furnace used in the 1962 workshop, a keynote address from the museum’s director Brian Kennedy, a Goblet Grab first-come-first-serve sale to raise funds for the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (a national service whose mission is to sustain thecareers of artists) and the long-awaited opening of TMA’s Wolfe Gallery for Contemporary Art on June 14 with the kick-off of the exhibit titled, ColorIgnited: Glass 1962-2012
“The studio glass movement was not a flash in the pan,” says Page. “It spread like wildfire because its early supporters entrenched it in the university system and trained a new generation of artists. It was like the domino effect. Glass as a material has evolved from drinking glasses to oven pans to touchscreens in tablets, and artists are actively using these changing mediums. It is an art form that is here to stay.”
FREE EVENTS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Days of Glass — June 13 & 17: The conference kicks off on Thursday with exhibitions at the Toledo Museum of Art and at galleries around town. Glass demonstrations will take place at the TMA’s Glass Pavilion and at galleries like Fire Nation and River House. A post-conference Day of Glass will take place in Detroit.
Goblet Grab — Friday, June 15: Walk in, pick your piece, leave with it. Simple enough; just do it before someone else gets it before you. From noon to 1:30pm, come to Ballrooms 2&3 at the Park Hotel to enjoy a whimsical event and walk away with a great piece.
Gallery Hop — Friday, June 15: Venerable and pop-up galleries open from 6:30-10:30pm, featuring local and out-of-town glass artists. See page 13.
Technical Display —Friday and Saturday, June 15 & 16: Hone your own skills. State of the art equipment, supplies, services
and publication will be available for purchase from 1-4pm (both days) in Hall C of the Seagate Convention Centre.
Live and Silent Auction — Friday and Saturday, June 15 & 16: Bid on and — hopefully — walk away with artwork donated by conference presenters, GAS board members and many others. Items will be displayed in the Park Inn Ballroom from 5-7pm on Friday and 9am-6pm on Saturday. The first silent auction table will close at 5:15pm and the live auction is scheduled from 6-7pm. For a full list of events, see www.glassart.org
WEARING IT PROUDLY
The 2012 GAS Conference is a celebration of all the ways in which glass can be beautiful — some obvious, and some you may never have considered. As the Conference draws to a close on Saturday, June 16 at the Huntington Center, attendees will see that glass can be something lovely to wear, as well. It’s part of what’s now a tradition at GAS — a Glass Fashion Show, courtesy of Canadian-American artist Laura Donefer and a slew of talented designers. Since 1989, Donefer has organized the conference’s fashion show eight times, calling on glass artists to model their own unique creations — with the only requirement that the outfit be made of at least 50 percent glass. Everything from finely-crafted art glass to recycled light bulbs or mirrors goes into the creation of an unforgettable experience.
Color Ignited: Glass 1962-2012
To celebrate 50 years of its studio glass, the Toledo Museum of Art is hosting Color Ignited: Glass 1962-2012. The event is a “coming of age” look at glass artwork, while honoring the start of TMA glass workshops in 1962. These historically significant workshops helped rejuvenate studio glass in post-war Europe,nurturing what are now considered the pioneers of studio art glass. The showcase includes displays from TMA workshop participants, along with major artists and more than 80 objects from private collections, galleries, and other museums. The exhibition places emphasis on the importance of color in artistic expression and is the inaugural event of the Museum’s new Frederic and Mary Wolfe Gallery of Contemporary Art. It is curated by Jutta-Annette Page and Peter Morrin. June 14-September 9. The Toledo Museum of Art. 419-255-8000. www.toledomuseum.org
World of glass
GAS brings in artists from all across the globe
The 2012 Glass Art Society Conference is not only a celebration of the movement’s beginning, but is a fast-moving story of the past and present, along with the art form’s undeniable impact on the future. The event will bring in well-known artists from across the country and the globe. “It will be a treat for the community to see glass work from artists not normally seen here, as well as our regional professionals,” says Herb Babcock, artist and conference co-chair.
The event will also include a Gallery Hop bus tour — where you can see many of these artists’ work — on June 15. Check the June 13 issue of the City Paper for a complete map. “There’s such a legacy, and it’s kind of neat to see it come full circle,” said Bill Sattler, of Madhouse Gallery. “People have a lot of pride in it.” Bringing in outside artists provides an opportunity “to showcase things that we’ve started in the past and continued to innovate.” Here are a few that are coming to town.
SUR SAINT CLAIR GALLERY
The Sur Saint Clair Gallery will be displaying work by Ohio artist Domenico Cavallaro and three international artist counterparts. This includes Muranese artists Mattia and Marco Salvadore, along with Paris-based artist Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert. The exhibition, titled Esthetik, connects these very unique artists with a common ground in a minimalist structure and an emphasis on the versatility of lines. Some are vibrant, some are plain, but all have a very raw and dynamically modern feel to them. www.domenicocavallaro.com
AMK GALLERY AT THE SECOR GALLERY
A team for more than 30 years, Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace, graduates of the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington (where they still live), are well known for their large-scale blown glass fruit and vegetable forms. www.kirkpatrick-mace.com
MAD HOUSE GALLERY
Talent from the Pittsburgh Glass Center will be on display at Madhouse Gallery. The exhibition will include multiple artists in the exhibition “A Retrospect of Young Talent from Pittsburgh Glass Center.” www.pittsburghglasscenter.org.
HAWK GALLERY AT PAULA BROWN GALLERY
Hawk Galleries is bringing Swedish glass artist Bertil Vallien and Italian artist Lino Tagliapietra to Toledo. Vallien made his name in ceramic art in the 1950’s, but has since done enormously influential work in glass, particularly sand casting. He’s long been on the cutting edge of developing new casting techniques, and his work is haunting and evocative. Tagliapietra learned his craft on his home island of Murano, a center of the glass industry since medieval times. He had enormous influence on the studio glass movement, particularly through his tutelage of key American artists like his friend Dale Chihuly. www.hawkgalleries.com
BULLSEYE GALLERY AT TSA
The Portland-based Bullseye Gallery presents the Import exhibition, which will be featuring glass artists, including Giles Bettison and Richard Whiteley, at Toledo School for the Arts. They will also have live demonstrations with a mobile hot shop on Thursday, June 14 (10am-1pm), Friday, June 15 (10am-10:30pm) and Saturday, June 16 (10am-5pm). Free children’s workshops will be held from 1-3pm June 11, 13, 14 in half hour sessions. Walk-ins welcome; registration preferred (www.brazeestreetstudios.com). www.bullseyeglass.com
BGSU DOROTHY UBER BRYAN GALLERY
At Bowling Green State University people will have the ability to view the work of Japanese glass artists, including Yoshihiko Takahashi and Etsuko Nishi, during “Glass Masters of Japan and the U.S. Studio Glass Movement: A Conversation.” The exhibition from June 12-16, which will take place at BGSU’s Dorothy Uber Bryan Gallery, will examine the intimate relationship between U.S. and Japanese studio glass art, while discussing the unique glass language of the Japanese art culture.
Photo Credits: 1. Photo by Robert C Florian. Collection of the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum of Glass.2,3,4,5,6. Toledo Museum of Art. 7. Andrew Erdos (American Born 1985), twilight powered by Electricity makes for a Brilliant New Horizon. Mouth-Blown Glass, Sterling Silver, Video Monitor, LED Lights, 2012. 62 x 61 x 45 IN. (157.4 x 154.9 x 114.3 CM). Image Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, New York ©2012 Andrew Erdos.