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Pittsburgh Glass Center celebrates a decade of art and artists

| Sunday, June 19, 2011

In 1991, when David Stephens, then visual-arts officer of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, asked glass artists Ron Desmett and Kathleen Mulcahy to think about creating a glass center for Pittsburgh, they knew it was a daunting task, but it could be done.

"He met me in Philadelphia that summer to introduce me to heads of nonprofits there to talk about this idea," Mulcahy says. "I had known him from writing grants to art programs when I taught at Carnegie Mellon and ran the glass program there."

By then, Mulcahy was already on the board of directors of the International Glass Arts Society and was well aware of the potential a glass center could create for a region. "Alice Rooney of Pilchuck Glass School (in Stanwood, Wash.) encouraged me when she and I were board members," Mulcahy says. "So, the seeds were planted years ago."

Ten years later, the newly created Pittsburgh Glass Center opened its doors on the edge of Friendship, and, today, it has come to be recognized internationally as a state-of-the-art facility for glass making and teaching.

"In the beginning, no one believed this could happen," Mulcahy says. "It was only us here, but we both knew, if you build it, they will come.

"Build it right -- that is the key," Mulcahy says. "The best facilities will attract artists from all over. And we worked hard to persuade others that a gallery was very important, and an artist house and all the equipment we needed. These were essentials that took a lot of education on the part of others to get them to imagine the vision that Ron and I had for Pittsburgh.

"We saw it happening. We saw the international artists coming from all over the world. That was our dream."

Now, 10 years after opening, the center is celebrating its anniversary with an impressive exhibition. Titled "10 x 10 x 10," the exhibit, on display in the center's Hodge Gallery, contains 220 works by as many artists, each no larger than 10 inches by 10 inches by 10 inches, as the show's title implies.

This invitational show is the center's 30th consecutive glass-art exhibit, and highlights the creativity and talent of the many artists who have taught, lectured, exhibited or taken classes at Pittsburgh Glass Center during the past 10 years. And, as to be expected, the artists are from all over the United States and far-flung places such as Australia, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Mexico.

Most of the works were created within the past year, and range widely in price. For example, the lowest-priced work is just $4. Titled "Some Assembly Required," it's composed of glass parts cast from a Starfix German Messerschmitt model kit. The price reflects what Travis Rohrbaugh, the creator of the piece, paid for the model kit at a Goodwill store.

The highest-priced work is a $15,000 paperweight. Titled "Honeybees With Mountain Laurel Bouquet Orb," it contains a hyper-realistic looking bouquet of flowers, complete with honeybees, by Paul Stankard that was inspired by the Pennsylvania state flower.

Stankard, who is world renown for his flameworked paperweights, isn't the only heavy hitter represented in the exhibit. In 2002, the center welcomed three masters of glass -- Dante Marioni, Davide Salvadore and Cesare Toffolo -- to teach workshops at the center. All three artists are represented in the "10 x 10 x 10" exhibit. Marioni submitted a blown glass acorn made from murini cane titled "Reticello Acorn," Salvadore made a semi-abstract sculpture titled "CoCoe" and Toffolo sent one of his figural martini glasses from his "Piccoli Uomin" series.

From master to student, the show includes the work of Matt Kolbrener, a recent Fox Chapel High School graduate who has been participating in the center's high-school program for four years. He recently received a full scholarship to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. His piece "And Then" is a small, but whimsical, work in clear blown-and-etched glass that commands attention among a sea of stellar pieces.

Regular visitors to the Hodge Gallery likely will recognize many of the names of glass artists who have exhibited there previously. For example, Japanese artist Yukako Kojima is represented by the piece "Layers of Light Moon." Kojima was a part of Pittsburgh Glass Center's 2007 exhibit "Allure of Japanese Glass," which was one of the key events during Pittsburgh's "Year of Glass."

And not to go without mention is Robin Stanaway, who was the very first artist-in-residence at Pittsburgh Glass Center and presented her work in the center's very first exhibit, called "The River," in 2002. Her piece "Pleiades," from her ongoing series "Galaxy Project," is a mini mobile that is sure to cause you to purse your lips and see what happens.

Of course, the exhibit wouldn't be complete without the works of Chris Clarke and Heather McElwee. Clarke, who moved to Pittsburgh from Massachusetts in 2000 to help build the center, is director of studios and technology. His piece, "I'd Rather be Fishing," a life-size re-creation of a tackle box, is very different from his usual output, which is, typically, organically inspired abstract sculptures.

McElwee is the center's newly appointed executive director. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2001 to work at the center and taught one of the first glassblowing classes there shortly after it opened. Her piece, "Lead Me Home," with its etched-glass house atop a milkglass cake plate, could very well be the mascot piece of the exhibit. It looks as if it's a tiny monument to the glass house that is the center, which has grown from the seed of an idea to an internationally recognized organization.

The center will throw a 10th birthday celebration dubbed "Hot and Sticky" on July 23, with New York artist collective Burnt Asphalt Family prepping hors d'oeuvres in the furnace and creating edible sculpture. And on Sept. 23, "Art on Fire 11 Celebration & Auction," a benefit gala and auction, is planned to help close out the center's first decade.

Additional Information:

At a glance

'10 x 10 x 10'

When: Through Sept. 17. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays-Sundays

Admission: Free

Where: Hodge Gallery, Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave., Friendship

Details: 412-365-2145 or www.pittsburghglasscenter .org

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