Studio Glass in Focus: Dialogue and Innovation is one of more than 150 celebrations across the country that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the studio glass movement. The current wealth of creativity in glass art had humble beginnings in 1962 at two workshops arranged by Harvey Littleton at the Toledo Museum of Art. Littleton, together with Dominick Labino, an engineer in industrial glass, demonstrated the possibility of studio production using their design for the first workable small-scale glass furnace and lower melting glass formulations.
We take a behind-the-scenes look at how the exhibition came together in a conversation with Stephen Harrison, the museum's curator of decorative art and design, and guest co-curator Robert Coby.
Q: Robert, how did you become co-curator of the exhibition?
A: Two years ago I was a Wingate Fellow and I worked with Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Arts. One of my projects was to review the museum’s glass collection. We also visited local collectors and reviewed the glass collections of some museums in the region. This exhibition was one of my recommendations for focus shows that the museum could explore, and is, in effect, the culmination of a two-year process.
Q: Stephen, Robert brings an interesting perspective to the exhibition as a glass artist? How did that impact the end result?
A: As a glass artist, Robert brings a technical eye and formal training that is helpful when choosing works to include in the exhibition. He provides a unique understanding of the technical difficulty of each piece and can recognize the skill level needed to create such beautiful works of art.
Q: Robert, what are some of the themes you are trying to communicate with the works you’ve pulled together?
A: Glass encompasses such a wonderful community of artists, collectors, dealers, and museum professionals that work together. It’s really collaboration. I graduated from CIA in 2011 and learned the art of working with glass from Brent Kee Young. He has taught generations of glass artists. Outside of Seattle, Cleveland might be the next congregation of glass artists.
Fossil Series: “Silurian Candidate II,” 2004. Brent Kee Young (American, born 1946). Blown glass with fossil-like, flame-worked inclusions; 29.2 x 13.97 (diameter) cm. Collection of the Artist
Other themes include diversity and versatility. Most people think of glass art as mostly vessels that are very colorful bright and shiny. We’re hoping this focused show will educate visitors beyond what they may already know.
Q: Robert, what are some of the must-see works in the show?
A: Ruby Crossed Forms is made by Harvey Littleton. It is from a private collection and has never been on view in a museum. It really represents the essence of that early part of the glass movement which focused on the color and plasticity of glass.
Canopic Jar - Mountain Lion is made by William Morris. His Canopic Jar series is considered some of his best work because it pushed the boundaries of texture and form. It will be shown with an actual canopic jar from the CMA’s Egyptian collection so that visitors can make comparisons.
Deserted Throne is made by Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová. These artists are considered among the best from Czechoslovakia because they set the standard for what could be done in cast glass.
Q: Robert, how does it feel to co-curate your first show just a year out of your BFA program?
A: It’s an honor. I’ve learned a lot about the entire process.
Q: Stephen, what has been unique about the co-curation process?
A: The process is representative of the studio glass movement. It is a movement that is about community and collaboration. There is a journey and a story to creating an exhibition. It started off as one idea and it ended up as what we have today.