News Column

New exhibit at art museum celebrates Dayton's love for glass

July 12, 2014

By Meredith Moss, Dayton Daily News, Ohio

July 12--Thanks to Dale Chihuly, people around the world now know just how beautiful studio glass can be. The famous artist -- based in Washington State -- has created giant and colorful installations in picturesque settings ranging from Jerusalem's Old City and the Royal Botanic Gardens to the canals of Venice, Italy.

Chihuly's renowned Cylinders and Baskets, his Seaforms and Macchia, his Chandeliers and Fiori -- all have that wow factor. Each series is named for its source of inspiration.

But, as you'll learn from the new exhibit opening this weekend at the Dayton Art Institute -- "Dayton Celebrates Glass" -- there are also a wide variety of other glass artists using a variety of intricate techniques to make all sorts of gorgeous objects.

"It is a medium with infinite possibilities," said Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, the DAI's Curator of Collections and Exhibitions. "What I love about glass is the way in which all of these artists push the boundaries of glass in unique ways. No two pieces are alike -- even if they do a series of work."

Although Chihuly's work -- including some of his working drawings -- are featured in the new exhibit, DeGalan says she wasn't interested in curating another Chihuly show. The museum had hosted a major Chihuly exhibit in 2001.

"The field is exploding with artists who are using new technologies," DeGalan said.

The goal of her current exhibition is to showcase the range of artistic glass art now available.

The amazing pieces on display range from a glass kimono by Karen LaMonte to a miniature glass diner by Emily Brock -- complete with tiny glass utensils and glass bacon and eggs. There's cartoon-inspired work by Dan Dailey, delicate glass tapestries by Harue Shimomoto, and a glass boat by Bertil Vallien.

Local museum visitors will remember the 2009 William Morris exhibit: It was hard to believe that the objects on display weren't ancient stone or wood carvings but were actually made of glass. You'll see pieces by Morris in the this exhibit as well -- including a horned animal inspired by a type of ceramic or bronze drinking vessel popular in ancient times.

"My hope is that people will come away from this exhibit with new favorites" said DeGalen, who has assembled 50 objects that represent the past 50 years of glass-making.

What you'll see

Although the production and use of functional glass goes back to ancient times -- think tiny oil lamps and vessels -- the birth of the studio glass movement in America begins in 1962 at the Toledo Museum of Art, where artists Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino conducted workshops that introduced new technological advances that allowed artists to work in smaller studios rather than in larger industrial environments.

It's the past 50 years of studio glass making that's celebrated in the Dayton Art Institute show, which is organized both chronologically and also by the various processes used to create contemporary art glass.

Littleton and Labino's secret was the combination of a small brick furnace and low temperature melting-point fiber glass beads. The first DAI gallery is devoted to those artistic glass pioneers -- including Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra, credited with bringing Italian glass-making techniques to America in 1979. His "reticello" technique -- which looks like fishnet -- can be seen in the work of his student, Dante Marioni.

The second gallery focuses on the second generation of artists who work in blown and sculpted glass.

Many artists, including William Morris, combine glassblowing with furnace work, first blowing one or more bubbles of glass and then shaping the inflated glass into a particular form, DeGalan explained.

There's a gallery devoted to fused and cast glass -- which is hot but not blown -- and one highlighting lampwork and flamework, which use a torch or lamp to melt the glass rather than a furnace.

Museum visitors also will see a room and video that memorializes Dayton's well-known glass artist, Tom Chapman, and includes his workbench and tools.

Ries and his sunflower

In the final gallery, there are beautiful examples of cold process glasswork including work by Christopher Ries who grew up on a farm in central Ohio and founded the glass department at The Ohio State University.

Using a type of glass he calls optical crystal, Reis has produced the largest whole, unassembled pieces of crystal sculpture known. His 1,100-pound glass sunflower on display at the DAI is a showstopper.

"I create simple, elegant pieces that rely on internal reflections to create compositions. I've had the gift of optics," he explained to the docents and museum staff who were touring the exhibit Wednesday afternoon before the show's opening. "When you look at a piece like this, you should know that it was carved from a 3,000-pound block. I use a reductive process and just keep taking away. Look down and you'll see it spin like a pinwheel."

Meet Stephen Powell

Glass artist Stephen Powell, who founded the glass program at Centre College in Danville, Ky., and continues to teach there, is best known for his dramatic multi-colored vessels that combine large organic forms with delicate color patterns. They have wild names like "Licking Purple Manic" and "Lurid Tickle Sniffer."

Powell's process involves laying out an intricate pattern of glass beads and rolling them onto the surface of the hot vessel.

His murrine are small bits of beadlike glass that he and his assistants make by hand. Powell lays out up to 2,500 murrine or more for a single work and admits he's sometimes influenced "by a little bit of bourbon."

Unlike Chihuly -- who now designs glass but doesn't physically blow it himself due to two accidents in the late '70s-- Powell does both.

"It's absolutely fun and challenging, like a drug to me," he said. "I have to be in the studio on a regular basis, or I have withdrawal."

Making the work, he adds, is extremely physical.

"I still condition and have to stay in shape to some degree," said Powell, now 62, who first became fascinated with glass at the age of 28 and says glass has the ability to interact with light like no other medium.

It was in graduate school that Powell first saw a hot glass studio being built.

"I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it being done," he said. "I loved what you could do with color, and so I went from painting and ceramics to glass. I'm a pyromaniac. I love the fire element."

He especially enjoys the collaborative process of glass-making.

"As much as I like to be alone in the woods, I wouldn't have survived if I made work by myself," he explained. "I like that aspect -- a bunch of people working together -- and it helps with the discipline."


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