2000 to 2009
Particle Theories: International Pate de Verre and Other Cast Glass Granulations
The Museum of American Glass at Wheaton Village presents, “Particle Theories: International Pâte de Verre and Other Cast Glass Granulations,” April 2 to December 31, a major exhibition featuring historic and contemporary art glass created through a technique that is called “pâte de verre” (“paste of glass”). Over 140 pieces will be on display.
Most glass-related exhibitions are so broad that they become mere displays. But “Particle Theories” takes an important step in advancing the critical study of contemporary glass art by focusing on one very specific technique, pâte de verre that has a rich history and has exerted an enormous influence on contemporary glass art throughout the world.
Guest Curator, Susanne Frantz, former curator of 20th Century Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass, has selected a group of international artists who exploit the pâte de verre technique in traditional ways, as well as through a number of exciting variations. To establish the historic background, a choice group of objects created at the turn of the 20th century will be on display. Pieces that highlight the diversity and brilliance of these early achievements will include a plaque by Henry Cros, a rare pendant by René Lalique, realistic figures by Georges Despret and Amalric Walter, and sculptural vessels by Gabriel Argy-Rousseau, Jules-Paul Brateau, Albert Dammouse, and Décorchemont.
There will be a fully illustrated catalog accompanying the exhibition. One of the world’s foremost authorities on the history of pâte de verre, Jean-Luc Olivié, Curator of Glass at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Louvre, Paris, will write an introductory essay that offers previously unpublished research on the topic. Guest Curator, Susanne Frantz, will write about the artists in the exhibit and the modern developments in pâte de verre.
The origins of pâte de verre are
unknown, but the term was invented at the end of the 19th century by the
French sculptor, Henry Cros (1840-1907). In experiments at the Manufacture
National de Sèvres, Cros and a handful of contemporaries “rediscovered” the
technique that may date back to the Egyptian 18th dynasty. It was lost for
centuries (with a brief interlude in 18th century England for the recreation
of antique carved cameos) until the 1880s, when it was again studied and
refined by the small circle of French artists and craftsmen. Cros had been
working with tinted wax and marble, but he was looking for a material in
which to create permanent polychrome sculpture. He sought a medium that
could also recreate the subtle coloration and light transmitting qualities
of living flesh at a time. Other French artists were fascinated by the
ability of cast glass to imitate porcelain and semi-precious stones through
To make pâte de verre, glass is ground to a consistency ranging from a fine powder to a sugary grit. Different colors of glass and/or coloring agents, such as powdered enamels and metallic oxides, are mixed (usually, but not always) with a binder and turned into a slip or paste. This mixture is then brushed, tamped, poured, or packed into a preformed mold made of a refractory material able to withstand high temperatures. Sometimes the mold is filled solid; sometimes only a thin exterior wall is built up, layer by layer and color by color; in a third variation the ground glass is held in a reservoir that feeds directly into the mold.
After drying, the mold is fired in a kiln until the glass fuses together or, in the case of the reservoir, melts sufficiently to flow downward and fill all cavities in the hollow mold. Once the mold has cooled, it must be broken away and destroyed to free the glass. While multiple molds may be made from an original form, only one piece of glass can be fabricated from each mold. The freed glass might be left with the chalky or matte surface as it emerges from the mold, or finished using a variety of coldworking techniques such as grinding, cutting, and polishing. It may also be refired to further manipulate the form and coloration.
For all of its advantages, pâte de verre is extremely labor intensive. Multiple steps are required for mold making, the mixing of the glasses, and their placement in the mold. One mistake at any point in the process can destroy weeks of effort. Fusion thresholds are narrow and the degree and duration of firing must be perfect. Too much heat can cause the glass to “boil over” and colors to run together and move out of place. With too little heat, the glass will not vitrify and falls apart.
Surprisingly, the great conundrum of pâte de verre is its definition. None of the early artist-craftsmen approached the technique in exactly the same way. The diversity of the term’s interpretations has created confusion and dispute since the beginning. Some individuals believe that pâte de verre may only be made from glass worked to the consistency of powder and that it must always be formed into a paste. Others maintain that larger particles are acceptable and that the binder is optional. Still others insist that only colored glass can be true pâte de verre. Early 20th century descriptors such as “pâte d’email” and “pâte de cristal” muddied the waters; in recent years, the terms “kiln-cast,” “kiln-fused,” “kiln-formed,” and “mold-melted,” have attempted to describe the multitude of ways of casting glass in kilns including pâte de verre. The truth is that there has never been one firm definition. Even inventor, Henry Cros, loosely applied it to a variety of working methods. The catalogue essays for “Particle Theories” will address this fundamental issue. For the purposes of the exhibition, pâte de verre will be defined simply as: Glass ground to a granular consistency, packed or melted into a mold, fired in a kiln, and broken free.
Stylistically, the flowering of French pâte de verre lasted from Art Nouveau at the end of the 19th century, through 1930s Art Moderne. The technique even made an appearance in 1930s Japan at the Iwaki Glassworks thanks to artist Sotoichi Koshiba who learned it in France. Other than a few notable exceptions of the 1940s and 1950s, the technique was abandoned until the mid-1970s and the rise of International Studio Glass. At that time, Antoine and Etienne Leperlier in France (grandsons of Décorchemont), Diana Hobson in England, and Marianne Maderna in Austria, undertook independent trial-and-error experiments. Slightly later, American Karla Trinkley began her investigations. Trinkley’s sculptural vessels, surrounded by free-standing “cages” inspired by ancient Roman glass, perfectly exploited the aged, encrusted, and deteriorating appearance made possible by pâte de verre and introduced the method to American Studio Glass. By the 1980s, the revival had been widely adopted in Japan where it could be undertaken relatively inexpensively and in a small domestic space. Japanese artists have been key in exploring the potential of the technique.
Today, pâte de verre has become such a prominent way of working with glass that it can no longer be associated with a particular locale or even a particular “look.”
Show sponsors include Air France, The Davenport Family Foundation and the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.
The Museum of American Glass has the most comprehensive collection of American glass in the country. Over 6,500 objects are on display. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., April through December. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission: Adults $10.00, $9.00 Senior Citizens and $7.00 Students. Children five and under are free. For more information, call 1-800-998-4552 or 856-825-6800, or visit www.wheatonvillage.org.
Wheaton Village strives to make exhibits, events and programs accessible to all visitors. Call for details.
Funding has been made possible in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Wheaton Village received a general operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of Cultural Affairs in the Department of State.