1993 Maximizing the Minimum: Small Glass Sculpture

More than thirty years have passed since a workshop held at the Toledo Museum of Art gave birth to the American Studio Glass Movement. In the summer of 1962, ceramist Harvey Littleton, glass scientist Dominick Labino and a group of young artists built a small glass furnace and blew glass outside of the traditional glass factory setting.

Their goal was to prove that glass, like clay, stone or metal, could become a contemporary artistic medium. Up until this time, glass was primarily utilized in factory settings to create purely functional objects.

The size and cost of building and fueling a glass furnace had previously been based on the industrial glassmaking scale, making the cost prohibitive for the individual artist. For their experiment, Littleton and Labino reduced the size of glassmaking equipment and created new glass formulas which made glassblowing possible in an independent artist’s studio.

With the assistance of Harvey Leafgreen, a retired glassblower, who demonstrated the art of glassblowing before the eager but inexperienced students, the first workshop paved the way for a second one. After Littleton and Labino met with further success, glassblowing programs sprang up at universities throughout the country during the 1960s and 1970s.

Intrigued by its potential, students and artists began experimenting with this ancient medium. Within ten years, glass became an accepted material for artistic expression.

These artists soon discovered that working with molten glass required extraordinary discipline and dexterity. Utilizing tools such as the blowpipe and the pontil which had changed little since Roman times, they produced simple forms and bubbles. These designs were predominantly influenced by ceramic designs because many of the budding artists, like Littleton, had received artistic training in that field.

After mastering the rudiments of this demanding craft, the artists began to challenge glass into new directions, leaving the utilitarian vessel behind and moving on to sculptural forms. Limited only by their imagination, they produced work ranging in style from the realistic to the abstract.

The appeal of the emerging studio glass movement spread rapidly. Museums and gallery exhibitions heightened public awareness of this new art form in both the United States and Europe.

In the meantime, each generation learned from its predecessors and continued to make new strides in the field. The diversity of the movement can be seen in the vast array of work created by the artists.

As glass technology advanced in the years that followed, unleashing new creative possibilities, so did individuality. Machines no longer dictated the form and function of glass but took on a whole new role as artists adapted technology to the area of contemporary art.

The artists who worked with glass began pushing the boundaries of size until sculptures became larger and larger. The tendency toward grand scale, while often dramatic, can be imposing for collectors and museums with limited space.

This exhibition was organized to illustrate that size constraints do not interfere with the scope of an artist’s vision. The glass artists invited to participate in this exhibition have displayed a wide range of talent despite the fact that they were required to submit a piece limited in size to 8 inches by 8 inches by 8 inches. Several of the artists, such as Tom Patti, Paul Stankard and Emily Brock regularly create works within these parameters. Doug Anderson, although his sculpture is not illustrated in this exhibition catalog, is another artist who has produced work of this size. Others, like Jon Kuhn, Jay Musler and Amy Roberts-Chamberlain, were challenged to confine themselves to this restrictive scale. The collective work in this exhibition is infused with an innovative spirit that intrigues both the observer’s eye and imagination.

Liberated by readily available technology and training, which had been unknown to earlier generations, today’s glass artists can concentrate on translating their ideas into reality. As a result, contemporary glass art, like most forms of art, will continue to evolve in new directions in the years to come.

For some artists, work created on a small scale will remain as challenging to create as massive sculpture. Just as glass has transcended its functional limitations in the past thirty years, so too, these artists will continue to prove that size has no effect on the quality of a successful work of art.