Friday, May 16, 2014

Preserving the magic of glass

Last weekend a consensus was raised about the state of studio glass in Los Angeles: it doesn't get the attention it deserves. There is undoubtedly a community of glass artists and collectors here - and venues that are happy to showcase glass (like us!) - but there is a lack of cohesion.

These concerns were brought to the fore at last week's panel discussion hosted by Craft in America Center on May 10, "Pilchuck and the Studio Glass Trajectory." Pilchuck Glass School, located about 50 miles north of Seattle, Wa., was founded in 1971 by glass artist Dale Chihuly and patrons Anne and John Hauberg. Today it is one of the foremost schools in glass education, producing and attracting some of the best glassmakers in the country.

It would make sense, then, to stage a panel around Pilchuck Glass School. All four panelists were spirited about its impact. Two of them, glass artists Hiromi Takizawa and Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, have taught at Pilchuck repeatedly; the other two panelists have been active in the glass collecting community for years: Anne Cohen Ruderman is the founder of GALA (Glass Alliance of Los Angeles); Susan Steinhauser is a collector of contemporary glass. She and her husband, Daniel Greenberg, are significant donors of art around the country, including to LACMA. The panel was moderated by Jo Lauria, independent curator and art and design historian.

Since there was so much ground to cover, the conversation didn't stop at Craft in America Center; it continued at the home of two generous art collectors whose outstanding glass collection was worth the trip alone.

An urgent topic that came up was the lack of interest in studio glass in Los Angeles. If Seattle has such an inspired commitment to glass, why can't Los Angeles? For one thing, glass is costly to make; for another, in recent years Los Angeles has lacked sufficient education in glass. This shows in the collections of major museums in the city: glass is not a priority.

Thankfully, there are exceptions. LACMA, though it's organized only one major exhibition on glass, has done several installations of studio glass in their permanent gallery space, and also rotates the glass in their permanent collection on a regular basis. In 2012 the Associate Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Bobbye Tigerman, organized an installation celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Studio Glass Movement.

Other Los Angeles institutions celebrated in kind: The Craft and Folk Art Museum organized Balancing Act: The Glass Sculpture of Steve Klein, and in the same year Otis College of Art and Design featured some of Alison Saar's glass work in her solo exhibition there.

. . . . . .

Another consensus was raised among the panelists: a significant community has grown around Pilchuck, many of its beneficiaries right here in Los Angeles. The panelists were vociferous about its magic: Pilchuck is an unmatched beacon of community and creativity. Its idyllic, tree-studded campus no doubt has an effect, but the glass medium has something to do with it, too: glass, especially hot glass, requires collaboration. That would explain the lack of competitiveness at Pilchuck. It is a space for sharing, exchanging and supporting. Takizawa, who has taught many courses at Pilchuck, was adamant about this.

Students at Pilchuck assisting Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend with her design, 1983
(Courtesy of Pilchuck Glass School)

Students at Pilchuck, 1973/74
(Courtesy of Pilchuck Glass School) 

View of Pilchuck Glass School
The magic of Pilchuck is singular, and yet there could be alot more spark channeled into LA's glass community. There are many, many talented and innovative glass artists in the city, and we should advocate for them.


  1. Thank you for your excellent post. At Pilchuck, we see it as part of mission to support all efforts to develop interest in and understanding of the field of glass as a material for creative expression. We are available to help in any and every way possible. Jim Baker/ Exec. Director/ Pilchuck Glass School

  2. This event was a very educational. Many thanks to Craft in America Center for hosting this event and the panelists for sharing their perspective on Los Angeles glass scene. As a glass artist working in Los Angeles, I really appreciate this type of opportunity where I can get together with my colleagues, friends and collectors to exchange information. I look forward to attending more events in the future!

    Kazuki Takizawa