Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Thursday, 14 June 2012 09:48
The six tiny, misshapen greenish glass vessels look more like relics than art.
|Overall view of the opening of Wolfe Gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Displayed in a case on the second floor of the new Wolfe Gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art, the objects are displayed between a handful of dark green marbles and a note book with about a dozen signatures. They represent the embryonic form of what in a half century has blown up into a new form of art. In 1962 in a garage at the Toledo museum, artists and educators gathered to give birth to the studio art glass movement. The vessels by Edith Franklin and Tom McGlaughlin are rare surviving pieces created at the time. What that workshop proved was that it was possible for individual artists to create glass on their own, much as a potters did.
The rest of the gallery is full of the art that grew from these modest forms, an explosion of hue and shape and fancy.
"Color Ignited: Glass 1962-2012" at the Toledo Museum of Art opens today in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Glass Arts Society. Both events commemorate the 1962 workshop.
The exhibit is the first to occupy the new Wolfe Gallery, made possible by a donation from Fritz and Mary Wolfe of Perrysburg. The venue is appropriate given the space until 2003 housed the museum's permanent collection of glass. That collection is now across the street in the Glass Pavilion.
The celebration itself has ignited celebratory displays in about 40 galleries in the region, including exhibits at Bowling Green State University, Owens Community College and River House Art in Perrysburg.
Museum Director Brian Kennedy said that it's appropriate the glass art had its beginnings here, given its connection to commercial glass production.
"Glass is here to stay," he said. New uses for glass, including solar panels, continue to be found. And artists such as Andrew Erdos, at 27 the youngest artist in the show, continue to find innovative ways of employing glass in art. His sculpture "Twilight Powered by Electricity Makes for a Brilliant New Horizon," completed this year and the newest piece in the show, employs LED lights.
It is one of more than 90 objects created by more than 40 artists, covering the dawn of art glass to the present.
One piece predates the Toledo workshop. Gio Colucci's "Spaceman" was created in 1960 by joining and painting manufactured bowls.
The image, Kennedy said, is full of the whims and promise of the Space Age. This spirit of adventure, a sense that anything was possible, suffused the era.
|Art by Josiah McElheny at the new Wolfe Gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Harvey Littleton, a sculpture and teacher, acted on that spirit in his continuing efforts to find a way to create art with glass in his own studio. Until then artists could design work that was produced in an industrial glassworks.
"He failed again and again," Kennedy said, but eventually his persistence and the assistance of Otto Wittmann, then the director of the Toledo Museum, and Dominick Labino, an engineer and artist from Grand Rapids, helped him finally realize his dream.
The participants in the workshop that Littleton organized spread out like apostles to create their own art and teach others to blow glass.
"They moved so quickly," Kennedy said.
Pieces done just a few years later showed dramatic improvements, and within a decade masterworks were being created.
Those included pieces by Labino. "He was working at the extreme edge of capability of the time," the label on one of his pieces in the exhibit explains.
Wittmann is quoted in the label of another work: "Labino's greatest contribution is his glorious color ... No other craftsman has achieved such extraordinary color relationships or subtle variations in tones."
It was Labino who supplied the glass marbles from his employer Johns-Manville. Those worked far better than the material the workshop participants first used. And the limitations of those colors, said Jutta-Annette Page, the museum's curator of glass and decorative arts and curator of "Color Ignited" with Peter Morrin of the Speed Art Museum, led early studio glass artists to play more with form than color, even though it was the possibilities of vibrant color that attracted them to glass.
A skilled chemist, Labino was able to formulate his own colors.
Labino is an example of the interaction of industry and art. Page said one of the pieces she was most pleased to secure for the exhibit was Dan Dailey's "Principles of Decor," a light-hearted piece that evokes 1960s advertising. Dailey, Page said, uses Vitrolite, a glass tile still used in design.
One of Kennedy's favorite pieces is "Cityscape" by Jay Musler, a large bowl with an urban skyline cut along the rim.
The bowl is made of Pyrex, a material invented by Littleton's father.
Page said some of the pieces in the exhibit haven't been on public display since the 1970s. Getting private collectors as well as museums to share works for the exhibit wasn't easy, she said.
Glass works are by their nature fragile. "Collectors do trust us because we are famous for our glass collection," Page said. "People are willing to lend to us."
Because of the fragility of the art, the exhibit, which continues through Sept. 9, will not travel. Toledo is the only place to see it, and after it closes many of the pieces will go back into private collections, Page said. "If you want to see it you have to come here."