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Uncommon elements alter view of daily life in Shadyside exhibit

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Morgan Glass Gallery
Demetra Theofanous' 'Unfettered Spirit'
Morgan Glass Gallery
Heather Joy Puskarich's 'Heautoscopic Jaunt'
Morgan Glass Gallery
Jen Blazina's 'Reflection Series: Camera 5'
Morgan Glass Gallery
Susan Longini's 'Canyon Sunset'
Morgan Glass Gallery
Randy Walker's 'Sienna Maple'
Morgan Glass Gallery
Michael Janis' 'That I Might Fly Away'
Morgan Glass Gallery
Ron Desmett's 'Small Series Pieces: Rock 1, Twist 9 and Split Sphere 6'

Featuring the work of eight artists from around the country, the exhibit “Common Discourse” on display at Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery in Shadyside is a diverse yet tidy display that includes such unusual pieces as vintage cameras cast in crystal and a life-size cast of a woman in white chocolate.

The cameras are by Jen Blazina of Philadelphia. Part of her “Reflection” series, they are based on her grandfather's collection of vintage cameras.

“My grandfather was an amateur photographer who obsessively photographed important moments in my family's visual history,” Blazina says. “From taking the photograph to developing the film and images, he found joy in each moment of the process.”

Thus, Blazina's “Reflection” series alludes to familial generational growth by the variety of models of the cameras on display rather than the actual evidence of the moments they captured.

For example, “Reflection Series: Camera 2” is a cast of a Japanese camera produced between 1958 to 1960 known as the Sawyers Mark IV Brand made by Tokyo Kogaku Kikai K.K. (Toyko Optical Co.). “Reflection Series: Camera 5” is a cast of the 120S made by Holga Film, a Chinese manufacturer.

Adding to the appeal (along with referencing the age) of these crystal cameras, each is housed in an original leather case.

The natural world is touched upon with the work of Demetra Theofanous of San Francisco, whose nests of flame-worked glass filled with pate de verre (glass paste) eggs are simply gorgeous.

Each is made with a signature technique she developed for weaving glass, which allows Theofanous to create large-scale sculptures by melting glass in gas flame at a table-top torch. The intricate, lamp-worked glass sculptures can take up to three to four months to complete.

By working with colored-glass powders and frits, which is made into a glass paste, Theofanous uses a painstaking process of layering color, to create a cast leaf or nest.

“I often combine flame-worked glass with pate de verre in a casting process,” Theofanous says.

Thus, much of the subtle color in Theofanous' work is achieved through a process of blending and mixing color and pulling glass cane, much like a painter would on a palette.

“I view the flame-working and pate de verre process as being very similar to painting,” Theofanous says, and with one look at her pieces, especially the eggs, with their subtle shifts in color and hue throughout, viewers will see why.

Also responding to nature with the technique of pate de verre, Susan Longini of Fremont, Calif., captures the essence of the setting and rising sun in several works such as “Canyon Sunset,” “Ocean Sunset” and “Dawn Boat.”

During the last decade, Longini has created work addressing natural transitions, such as Earth's daily transition of day to night and back again and the changing of the seasons.

“Those moments when we are acutely aware of transition occurring are also moments of introspection,” Longini says. “They allow us to realize that change is the constant and to embrace change not only in nature but in ourselves.”

Both Randy Walker of Bellingham, Wash., and Ron Desmett of Oakdale, in western Allegheny County, tap into the essence of nature, as well, but here by referencing trees. Walker makes larger-than-life leaves in wondrous autumnal colors, and Desmett crafts compelling objects by blowing glass into the hollows of dead tree trunks. Arranged close to each other in respective groupings, they set the tone for a show that is full of subtleties as well as the occasional wow factor.

And that wow factor is largely summed up in the final piece in the exhibit visitors will come to, “Heautoscopic Jaunt,” which is a life-size cast by Heather Joy Puskarich of Garfield, that is made entirely of white chocolate.

The 350-pound piece is more than three times the weight of the tiny artist and is made of a special cocoa-butter-free chocolate developed by Sarris Candies of Canonsburg. Made by pouring the chocolate into a plaster cast of herself, it was then carved down by the artist to the most intricate details, such as toenails and fingernails.

It's an amazing piece, which is worth the visit alone. But of course, there are plenty of equally fascinating works to see in this stunning show.

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

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