Amber Cowan | Alchemy of Adornment

A close-up of the detail on the Alchemy of Adornment exhibit artist Amber Cowan's glass sculpture is of a pot of orange flowers surrounded by pale green flowers & leaves.

Amber Cowan | Alchemy of Adornment

April 1 through December 31, 2023
in the Museum of American Glass

A white-pink sculpture by the Alchemy of Adornment exhibit artist Amber Cowen shows floral and fauna dripping and growing over a plant.
Cornucopia in Shell, 2021, Flameworked glass and American pressed glass, mixed media.
Alchemy of Adornment exhibit artist Amber Cowen, wearing safety goggles, is fusing glass on two small rods in front of a flame. She is wearing safety goggles and is to the left of the torch.

Alchemy of Adornment invites visitors to revel in the enchanting worlds of Philadelphia-based artist and educator Amber Cowan. Using the centuries-old techniques of glassblowing and flameworking, Cowan transforms American-pressed glass into exuberantly adorned diorama-like wall installations and free-standing sculptures. Her lush assemblages lure the viewer into fanciful narratives rich with symbolism and themes of transformation, femininity, and nostalgia.

The decline of the American glass industry is at the very heart of Cowan’s work. By the end of the twentieth century, inexpensive pressed milky white and colored glass candy dishes, vases, and novelties—once proudly displayed in American homes—had fallen from favor. Fashion changed, and sentimental memories faded as generations passed. Amber Cowan is now passionately placing this glass back in the spotlight. 

The artist masterfully remelts and sculpts cullet (factory scrap glass) to create new elements and blends them with found, sought, and donated antique glass. Some of the glass is sourced from thrift shops, online sales, friends, and even strangers who want their objects to have a second life. Most of the forms and distinctive cullet colors will never be made again, as they are products of defunct factories that once thrived in the “midwestern” glassmaking region of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. 

Alchemy of Adornment expands the interpretation of Cowan’s work by juxtaposing her creations with the artist’s choice of objects from the Museum collection. We hope visitors will share Cowan’s passion for the history of glass when they view firsthand the parallels between her work and Mt. Washington Glass Works “Burmese” vases from the 1880s, ornate Victorian flower baskets, and 1930s female figures. Other featured Museum objects illustrate the rich colors—such as “Bittersweet” orange, “Jadeite,” and “Rosalene”—that once signified household taste and now form Cowan’s palette.

Learn more about this exhibition with the video below. 

Thank you to our exhibition sponsor, the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.

Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass logo

The Museum of American Glass at WheatonArts gratefully acknowledges the support of all who have helped to make this video possible.

Produced & Directed by Keith Wasserman, Shoot the Moon Communications
Alexander Rosenberg, WheatonArts Glass Studio Director
Katey Murphy, WheatonArts Glass Studio Coordinator
Tiffany Leps, WheatonArts Glass Studio Assistant
Mary Mills, WheatonArts Director of Exhibitions and Collections
Matthew Hollerbush, Glass Photography
Amber Cowan
Heller Gallery, NYC

Banner Image: “Bittersweet, River and Milk” (detail), photographed by Matthew Hollerbush.
Alchemy of Adornment exhibit curated by Mary Mills, WheatonArts Director of Exhibitions and Collections.