Giant glass floral sculptures find home among the plants at Phipps
It's been nearly 10 years to the day since Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly first dazzled Pittsburgh with his colorful abstract blown-glass art exhibit, which opened May 10, 2007, at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland and ran for nine months.
Beginning on May 6, Phipps will shine again with breathtaking glass floral sculptures created by Jason Gamrath, a master glass artist, also from Seattle, who trained at the prestigious Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., which Chihuly founded.
Phipps Executive Director Richard Piacentini says it was time to bring back the magnificence of the nature-inspired artwork.
“For the past 10 years, we were looking for someone who does spectacular glass art,” he says. “We found it in Jason Gamrath, whose work is a totally different style” than that of Chihuly or Hans Godo Frable, another glass artist featured in 2009 at Phipps.
“One of the things that drew us to Jason is his appreciation of nature,” Piacentini says. “I know my colleagues around the country will take notice, and you'll be hearing his name again soon. I'd like to thank him for letting us be first in the spotlight (to showcase his art in a major exhibition).”
The feeling was mutual for Gamrath, who says he was drawn to the Pittsburgh conservatory because of its commitment to integrating sustainable building design and operation into its master plan.
“Phipps is doing so much with sustainability and bringing beauty into our lives,” the artist says. “I hope this exhibit inspires people to go out and discover the beauty that is all around them.”
Jordyn Melino, exhibit coordinator at Phipps, says Gamrath's glass art exhibition was two and a half years in the making.
“It's been an incredible process,” she says.
One of Melino's roles was to assist Gamrath in staging his artistic interpretations of plants in nature in the best possible settings in nine featured exhibit rooms, while showing visitors examples of the actual plants he has created in 40 oversized blown-glass sculptures.
The artwork made its way across the country in trucks from Seattle to Pittsburgh three weeks ago, packed carefully and encapsulated in layers of thick foam sheets.
Gamrath says the show represents five years of work — from sketching designs to scaling them to large proportions and melting clear glass rocks to creating each flower in a 2,100-degree furnace.
It took a year alone to individually mold and form the 500 to 600 pieces of glass used to create the petals, leaves and other details of the 40 sculptures, using a torch with a 5,000 degree flame to heat small areas of the glass so they can be molded, shaped, colored and designed.
The laborious process involved a team of at least 20 dedicated people working together at one time.
“It's a very organized dance,” he says.
Displaying one of his signature pieces, an intricate Venus Fly Trap, he says all of the points of the plant had to be molded one at a time, “and there is no room for error. If the glass is heated a second too long, all of it will melt into a blob. If anyone sneezes, it's all over.”
Other plants represented in his artwork include his interpretations of pitcher plants, orchids, a lotus plant and a glass corpse flower. The pieces will be featured in the plants and gardens to be showcased in Phipps' summer and fall flower shows.
“My work is beautiful, but it pales next to nature,” Gamrath says. “If you enjoy this exhibit, you will enjoy the beauty of the natural world. It's in here; it's everywhere.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.