Dale Chihuly - "the world's most flamboyant, prolific and high-earning glass artist" (The New York Times) - is the superstar draw here. But there's much to see at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art during its Summer of Glass.
Exhibits up through September 29 at the museum showcase the latest (The Next Generation of Studio Glass); the greatest, according to a jury of peers (41st International Studio Glass Invitational); and the most famous (Chihuly: Secret Garden, featuring some of Chihuly's most familiar work, on loan from the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, presented in an unfamiliar fashion).
Entering Chihuly: Secret Garden, you feel like you're walking into a cathedral. It's a totally different experience from Fort Wayne's 2002 Chihuly exhibit that showcased his effusive side.
"This installation shows a more minimal side of Chihuly, a spare side," explains Amanda Martin, deputy director of administration and education at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. "We're not a conservatory - we're indoors in a gallery - so we offer a virtual garden designed by Thomas Cain, an urban designer in Fort Wayne." Chihuly's pieces bloom and float theatrically from boxes filled with sand, the essential element from which glass is blown. It's magical.
The other two shows are grouped under the title The Chihuly Effect: Pushing the Boundaries of Studio Glass, and were created in collaboration with Habatat Galleries of Royal Oak, Michigan.
A quick refresher: the studio glass movement in the States gained traction in the 1960s when Harvey K. Littleton, described as a "teaching ceramist" at the University of Wisconsin, found himself inspired by the boundaries being pushed by Peter Voulkos, a potter in California. Littleton began to experiment with hot glass in his ceramics studio. Though following in the footsteps of renowned Venetian artisans, Littleton wanted to move beyond their centuries-old techniques toward a freer, even more imaginative relationship with hot glass.
A partnership between science and art enabled the official "birth" of the American Studio Glass movement with two "historic workshops" at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1962. Glassblowers until then expected to be working only with commercial companies to fashion objects marketed for their utility and beauty. Only after Dominick Labino, a glass research scientist, devised a small, inexpensive furnace did it become affordable for artists to blow glass in independent studios. They thus were freed to experiment and envision possibilities to fashion one-of-a-kind objects.
The 41st International Studio Glass Invitational brings us up to the present with an amazing array of work. Glass spun like gossamer fashioned into a basket; glass seemingly growing out of itself spiraling and coiling and snaking and solidifying into dozens of configurations. Pieces that reflect inwardly, like peering into the soul; pieces that deflect light, exemplifying sturdiness; pieces that change shape, emerging as something different as you walked around them.
One favorite is replaced by another, but the dog, its bones sculpted from bits of glass, lingers in my mind's eye. So compellingly rendered, I wanted to reach out, pet it.
How do these artists do it?
"Glass is so mutable, you can make it do so many things," says Martin. She describes how people react to the diversity of the objects on display, all out in the open, on pedestals with no protective covering. "These are one-of-a-kind works of art. People are familiar with the utility of glass, so experiencing glass in this way expands perceptions. I hope this exhibit, which demonstrates how far studio glass has come in fifty-one years will open people's minds to the infinite possibilities in studio glass."