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Evolution/Revolution: 50 Years of American Studio Glass

December 15, 2011 - April 1, 2012


The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Studio Glass movement in American art. A series of exhibitions, demonstrations and lectures at more than 100 museums and numerous galleries and art centers around the country will mark the occasion. The first of these is the exhibition Evolution/Revolution at the Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art, which looks back at some of the most important glass artists -- and the most exquisite and innovative glass art -- of the past five decades. (right: David Bennett, Handstand with Bent Leg, 2011, Blown glass and bronze, 56 x 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Habatat Galleries, Michigan)

Glass art is today found in fine art museums around the world. But that wasn't the case just a few decades ago, when glassmaking was still considered a factory craft, not an art form. Says glass expert Ferdinand Hampson, who organized this exhibition, "Not that many years ago artists who used glass as their medium were ostracized by the fine art world of critics, galleries, expos, museums and collectors...This collective 'cold shoulder' created a unique history that has become a source of pride for the artists, collectors, galleries and museums that have promoted and supported Studio Glass."

The revolution that became the American Studio Glass movement began in the spring of 1962 with workshops conducted by Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino at the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. These pioneering sessions started to nudge glass-making from the province of factory craftsmen into the realm of artists working individually in studios.

The next year, Littleton founded the first university glass program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and soon glass schools and glass art studios began opening across the country.

"The graduates of this program did not have a market for what they created, so they developed glass programs at other colleges and universities," notes Hampson, who is co-founder of Michagan's Habatat Galleries, the oldest and largest gallery in the country devoted exclusively to glass art. "The diversity of what could be created with glass coupled with some extraordinary artists who chose to use this material eventually attracted an audience of dedicated collectors."

Two of Littleton's students, Dale Chihuly and Marvin Lipofsky, went on to become pioneering teachers and artists in the field. Chihuly started the Rhode Island School of Design glass program in 1969 and to co-founded the famous Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle in 1971, before becoming world famous for his dazzlingly original large-scale glass sculptures. Lipofsky founded the glass program at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964 and also became an internationally acclaimed glass artist. Work from both of these artists is included in Evolution/Revolution.

While glassmaking is one of the oldest art forms, its function was traditionally decorative or utilitarian. With Studio Glass, the boundaries that had long defined glassmaking were shattered. Artists began to experiment with shape, texture, color and subject matter, creating artworks that were intimate and monumental, dazzling and contemplative, abstract and figurative, simple and complex. During the 1970s and 1980s, interest in the medium expanded exponentially and glass artists gained the freedom and respect enjoyed by painters and sculptors. (left: Leah Wingfield, Chance Meeting = Love, 2010, Cast glass, 17 x 17.5 x 4 inches. Courtesy of Habatat Galleries, Michigan)

The Naples Museum of Art exhibition traces the "revolution" that Littleton and Labino fomented as well as the "evolution" of the movement, from its earliest days through to the present. It includes an illustrated history of American Studio Glass and a special presentation detailing the contributions of the movement's founders. It features a display of historically significant glass art from the 1960s through the 1980s, as well as a large exhibition space with work by 29 leading contemporary American glass artists.

Evolution/Revolution provides a captivating journey through the history of American Studio Glass, while demonstrating the stunning variety of possibilities that glass art offers. It also shows that the field is still evolving.

"Glass as an art material has far exceeded my expectations," says Hampson. "It has the ability to attract a wide range of extraordinarily talented artists...This exhibition is unusual in that there has never before been such an extensive retrospective of American Studio Glass."


Studio Glass lecture

Evolution/Revolution: 50 Years of American Studio Glass

Ferdinand Hampson, co-founder of Habatat Galleries, has orchestrated more than 100 museum, university and art center exhibitions. Internationally recognized as an expert on American Studio Glass, he will discuss the evolution of the movement and pay tribute to its founders in this illustrated lecture. Hampson has written numerous articles and introductions for exhibition catalogues and lectured extensively on contemporary glass in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Monday, February 6, 2012 10 a.m.

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