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Technique provides link at glass celebration

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 9:00 p.m.
Judi Charlson 'Pyramid Series: Khufa - Monument to Memory'
Deborah Horrell 'Sacred Ibis Trio'
Alex Bernstein 'Three Peak'
Susan Silver Brown 'Burden Basket Series: Resonance's Redemption'
Ellen Abbott & Marc Leva 'The Book of Wren'

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the studio-glass movement, which began in 1962 when Harvey Littleton, a ceramics teacher, and Dominick Labino, a Carnegie Institute-trained engineer and inventor, developed a small, portable furnace and low-temperature melting point glass, providing artists access to glass and glassblowing techniques for the first time.

Before then, the only choice for learning the craft was to apprentice with a production glassblower, and most glasswork was done at large industrial furnaces.

Holding two groundbreaking workshops in a storage shed on the grounds of the Toledo Museum of Art that year, Littleton and Labino kickstarted the American Studio Glass movement, which emphasized the artist as designer and maker, with a focus on making one-of-a-kind objects.

On display at Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery in Shadyside, the exhibit “Cheers, Salute, L'Chaim to the Next 50!” celebrates the first 50 years with a remarkable display of a wide range of works in glass by eight artists from across the country.

The exhibit showcases a wide range of techniques, says gallery owner and director Amy Morgan.

“Many of the techniques are repeated, but in somewhat different variations, throughout the show.” Even though, she says, “I curated the show by the artist, not the kind of work they did necessarily.”

For example, Ellen Abbott and Marc Leva of Wharton, Texas, use the pate de verre technique in creating delicate boxes and vessels that are sometimes augmented with metal hardware. The pair, who primarily created architectural glass since opening their studio in the 1970s, have since the 1990s begun exploring the kiln-formed, glass-paste technique originally developed by the French in the late 19th century.

Their three pieces in this show are quintessential examples of the technique. “Reliquary of Memories” and “Reliquary for a Night Sky” are solid-cast boxes with intricate surface designs that call to elements of the night sky, and “The Book of Wren” features a bird motif and has a cast-bronze twig for a handle.

Also using the technique is Deborah Horrell of Portland, Ore., who uses cast-glass slabs of colorless glass as backgrounds for realistically detailed bird paintings in enamel. Her “Sacred Ibis Trio” is the most elaborate. In addition to a painting of a pink Ibis, it also includes a cast-glass bust of the bird and skeleton.

Other cast-glass pieces on display include a series of shaman-like figures by Susan Silver Brown of Paradise Valley, Ariz., from her “Burden Basket Series.” Each of the three figures — “Resolve's Offering,” “Resonance's Redemption” and “Resplendent's Restitution” — is inspired by “philosophical thought and constant world travel,” Morgan says. And each includes bronze casts of natural objects, such as seedpods and twigs, she collects while traveling.

In stark contrast, Alex Bernstein of Asheville, N.C., displays several abstract sculptures that combine cast-glass and metal, but, in this case, the glass is fused with rusting steel, addressing ideas “related to the process of transformation and the passage of time,” Morgan says.

Then there is the work of Judi Charlson of Squirrel Hill whose “Pyramid Series” offers something completely new and different.

Egyptian-inspired pyramids made of cast-glass slabs, they are filled with symbols, imagery and other inclusions that echo the spirituality and mystery of an ancient time. Morgan says they are especially unique in that they are lit within and can change colors at the push of a few buttons.

“Each of them have integral LED lighting,” Morgan says, holding a small remote control for the lighting. “You can make them change colors.”

Nature-inspired works by a husband and wife team, Ron Desmett and Kathleen Mulcahy of Oakdale, complete the exhibit, with Desmett displaying “Golden Bough,” a large vessel made from filling a hollow stump of a walnut tree with molten glass, and Mulcahy showcasing “Heaven and Earth,” another water-inspired work from her “Natural Forces” series that features large teardrop swells of glass that appear as if pouring water down a pane of steel.

Though the show is void of the types of blown-glass pieces that exemplify the beginnings of the studio-glass movement, it is replete with examples of the limitless creativity that working with glass affords, making for a celebratory exhibit in its own right that is not to be missed.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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