If you think the exhibition Gathering: Contemporary Glass from the Heartland is going to be as crowded with blown glass vases and bowls as your grandparents' fireplace mantel, you should bury that notion.
And you just might be able to do that with one piece from the show — a shovel with the business end made of glass — "Interment" by Allysa Burch. Burch, from Stevens Point, Wisc., is just one of 27 artists whose work will be displayed in this exhibition at the Indianapolis Art Center (IAC).
The rules for this juried exhibition required artists to be born in the Midwest or have gone to school in the region.
"When they apply, the only stipulation is that glass has to be integral to the work of art, meaning that it doesn't have to all be made of glass," says Betsy Knotts, a member of the Indiana Glass Arts Alliance, which is a sponsor of this exhibition. "But if glass wasn't part of it, it wouldn't get the message across."
Just about any 2D or 3D kind of art that you might think of can be done on glass, according to IAC glass instructor and Gathering exhibitor Ben Johnson.
"Glass can really transcend any studio [in the Indianapolis Art Center]," he says. "You can use it as mixed media in sculpture, you can mix it with wood, you do enameling on glass, or fused glass jewelry, you can melt glass on ceramics, you can blow glass in our studio, you can paint on glass, you can do photographic imagery on glass, you can draw on glass. Glass is one of those media that can go pretty much everywhere."
This isn't to say that traditional glass media will get short shrift. But even stained glass will get very contemporary treatment here.
An example of this is "Blue Heart" by Rita Shimelfarb, from Evanston, Illinois. The work portrays a beautiful young female subject painted on an intricately-patterned stained glass surface and proves that glass can be just as good a canvas as, well, canvas.
"The facial features and the body parts (arms, torso, clothing) indeed are painted on the glass," says Shimelfarb. "I used a traditional glass painter's technique consisting of reverse painting in multiple layers, in which each layer is fired in the glass kiln to make the paint permanently adhere to the glass before the next layer is painted.
The IAC is part of a rich Hoosier glass-making landscape, as it were, that includes the Ball Jar factory in Muncie and Kokomo Opalescent Glass, the oldest glass manufacturer in the U.S. And if that weren't enough, there's the Dunkirk Glass Museum and the annual glass festival in Elwood, IN.
And adding to that mix, there's the aforementioned IGAA which formed in 2008 to promote studio glass-making in Indiana.
One of the judges for this exhibit, in which works were blindly submitted — without names attached — is Marc Petrovic, the chair of the glass department at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Petrovic, a well-respected studio glass artist in his own right, will be lecturing on his work at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25 and offering a two-day-workshop that weekend.
"There's other international juried exhibitions that are focused on glass that would be more diverse and have a broader range of stuff," says Johnson. "But for this being a regional exhibition and the parameters that we've set up with the IGAA, this will be a cutting-edge exhibition in the Midwest."
As Johnson relates it, the studio glass movement began in 1962, in Toledo, Ohio with a man by the name of Harvey Littleton. “[He was giving a workshop in the Toledo Museum of Art and from there he coined the term, ‘Technique is Cheap’ and he wanted to use hot glass to be expressive for art making,” says Johnson. “But, then they were pretty much making blobs. From that point, close to 15 to 20 years later, everybody started going to Venice, to Murano, Italy, studying with the masters there.”
And those who went to the island of Murano included one Dale Chihuly, the creator of “The Fireworks of Glass” in The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
“From then on there’s been a strong Venetian influence on American glass blowing,” says Johnson. “And there’s been a resurgence in vessels and goblets and all that because everybody learned to blow straight off hand rather than Harvey doing art-making and it just being blobs and organic shapes.”
It wasn't all that long ago when Johnson, now an authority on the history and practice of studio glass, was himself a student at the IAC.
"Ben was in a class with me when he was 18 and he started taking classes here [in 2000]," says Knotts. "And that tells you how old I am. He was fearless. I was not. I was afraid of being burned. But he was just in there, going for it."
Sept. 25, 6-9 p.m.
Indianapolis Art Center