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Whimsical glass art sprouts at Phipps

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nearly 200 intricate, handmade glass creations from German artist Hans Godo Frabel will decorate the rooms of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens for the next eight months.

"Life in the Gardens: Frabel Glass at Phipps," which opens Wednesday at the Oakland conservatory, features 185 artsy glass pieces carved in shapes that often look convincingly like the real thing: for instance, frogs and lilies, officials say. Other shapes include whimsical clowns, flower goblets, humanistic vines, reptiles, geometric shapes and aliens. Visitors will love the exhibit, says Richard Piacentini, executive director of Phipps.

"I think they're going to have a lot of fun with it -- the figures and the characters, and the way they interact," he says. "It's just a fun exhibit; it's really exciting. ... These things actually look like they're real."

Frabel's glass comes from boron crystal, which has a more intricate look than the fluid appearance of blown glass. Frabel -- a native of Germany who now lives and works in Atlanta -- is known for pioneering the lampwork technique. This type of glasswork uses a gas-fueled torch to melt rods and tubes of clear and colored glass. Boron glass sculptures take several weeks to create, whereas blown-glass pieces can be completed in about an hour, Frabel says.

"Glass is a magical -- and at the same time, very difficult -- material," Frabel says in an e-mail interview. "The interesting thing of glass, especially clear glass, is that you do not really know what your sculpture is going to look like until you have finished it and see what effect you will get when the light hits it.

"Glass is just a magical medium -- the translucency, the way the sun 'plays' with the sculpture -- that always attracted me," he says.

Frabel, an avid gardener, says he is excited to display his work at Phipps, which he calls a good fit.

"Although it is nice to see your work in museums and galleries, it is always very exciting to me to display my work in a natural setting," he says. "I believe that both art and nature enhance each other and make for a great exhibition. For over 30 years, I have had several of my glass works in my own yard, really just to please myself."

Piacentini says the enormous success of the Dale Chihuly glass exhibit two years ago made Frabel's exhibit especially appealing. The Chihuly works were displayed at Phipps from May 2007 through February 2008, and drew more than 375,000 visitors from around the globe to Phipps, officials say.

"The Chihuly exhibit was an extraordinary experience for us at Phipps. It put Phipps on the map for a lot of people in Pittsburgh," Piacentini says. "We've been looking around for another exhibit that we think would be of great interest to the community.

"I think we learned something really important a couple of years ago -- that glass and plants in a garden are really an extraordinary experience," he says.

Additional Information:

'Life in the Gardens: Frabel Glass at Phipps'

When : Wednesday through Jan. 20. Phipps' hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Thursdays, and 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays.

Admission : $10; $9 for age 62 and older and students with ID; $7 for ages 2-12

Where : Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, 1 Schenley Park, Oakland

Details : 412-622-6914 or

Note : Phipps will be holding a preview party on Tuesday evening, when Hans Godo Frabel will be visiting. Tickets that include a VIP reception with Frabel are $125 to $175; general admission tickets to the Garden Glitter Reception with the Young at HeART are $40. For details and tickets, visit the Phipps Web site.



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