Glass art grows roots in an outdoor exhibit at Chesterwood

On one coast, young artists camped under massive pine trees while a furnace glowed under a wooden-beamed tent. On the other coast, a trim man and his daughter molded clay into the folds of a white shift. A fountain played behind his studio, and his sculpture in bronze and marble dignified monuments.

This summer (2016) will link Daniel Chester French, creator of the Lincoln Memorial, with the experimental artists of the Pilchuck Glass School, in a contemporary sculpture show, “The Nature of Glass” around his historic house at Chesterwood in Stockbridge.

Executive director Donna Hassler, and Jim Schantz, owner and director of Schantz Galleries Contemporary Art in Stockbridge, have done something few people in the world have tried: They have made an outdoor group show entirely of glass.

This kind of outdoor show is rare, Schantz said, because the U.S. glass art movement is young. It has grown from the experimenters who gathered around master glass artist Dale Chihuly at Pilchuck in 1971. Five artists in this show have worked closely with him, and he will have work at Schantz Galleries beginning July 8, though he does not appear in this show.

In the last 50 years a new generation has made glass art a form in its own right, and they have developed new tools and technologies to make a tough and beautiful material tougher and more luminous.

The Chesterwood show grew out of a visit to the West Coast more than a year ago. In March 2015, Hassler came on a tour with Schantz Galleries to Pilchuck and artist studios nearby. The trip opened her eyes to the breadth of glass sculpture movement, she said.

Schantz has curated 12 artists working with many techniques — cast, blown or cut glass, sculpted hot glass, plate glass, rods of colored glass, glass tubes shaped like palm-sized beads. Their work will gleam through Sept. 18 in the woods and gardens around French’s studio. They have already come through one storm.

“The work has to withstand the elements,” Hassler said. “Lightening has struck works here before.”

And she and Schantz are not worried.

“Glass when made correctly is incredibly strong,” he said, looking toward Martin Blanc’s “Crystal Reveal,” a clear spire like the trunk of a cedar tree.

Blanc has wind-tested outdoor pieces like this and found they could withstand hurricanes.

“Glass is used for skyscrapers,” Schantz said. “Think of the strength of the material.”

But some of the artists in this show have never before designed sculpture to show outside — in the sunlight. Here they will change as the light changes. The etched plate-glass in Richard Jolly’s “Time of Day” may glow with intensity or fade to shadow, Hassler said.

The overlapping rounds in John Kiley’s “Clear Cut” gleam from across the lawn, but they vanish from a few feet away except for the floating curves of the edges.

Some works play with light exuberantly.

In “Optic Lens” Richard Royal has based a shoal of translucent globes on the Fresnel lens used in lighthouses, a thin, light lens that can shine brightly because its surface ripples in rings.

“To work with blown glass on this scale is rare,” Schantz said.

A globe this size would weigh 30 pounds on the end of a blow pipe, he said. A glassblower may have a team of three or four to help in shaping the glass. Royal became the main gaffer — the head — of Chihuly’s team before he set out on his own, and he is internationally known now as one of the most skilled glassworkers in the movement.

In another clearing, Nancy Callan’s globes of silver and crimson and blue and saffron swirl in bright webs of color.

She creates patterns with thin strands of colored glass, Schantz said, setting them on a steel surface and rolling the hot ball of glass over them. Here in the ferns he feels a whimsical, magical, fantastical quality in her orbs and in the tall, tapering shapes she calls “Winkles” after Rip Van Winkle’s sleeping cap.

“They’re like fiddle heads opening out,” he said.

As glass artists here have learned centuries-old skills, he said, they have experimented with new furnaces, equipment and formulas. Peter Bremers has developed a glass that will withstand freezing. It glimmers like ice or marble, half translucent and half opaque.

Across the garden wall, Blanc has formed his crystalline spine of a tree from sheets of clear glass. He makes impressions from bark, Schantz said, casting a bronze form and laying on hot glass — at 1800 degrees.

“He works organically,” Schantz said

Thomas Patti has more often worked in urban settings. Patti is a Pittsfield native and the one artist in the show Schantz Galleries do not represent — he is known internationally for architectural work and in the Berkshires for his iridescent panels at the entrance to the Berkshire Museum.

Here, in his “Earth / Sky,” he uses a form of plate glass he has developed from two kinds of glass heat-fused together. Two panels open like a skylight on the lawn. Seen through them, the landscape floats in a golden, hazy light.

“It’s almost an altered state of reality,” Schantz said. “You see the light reflected as you’ve never seen it before.”


Photo at the top: Nancy Callan’s glass globes glow on a sunny afternoon. Photo by Kate Abbott. This story first ran in the Berkshire Eagle — my thanks to Features Editor Lindsey Hollenbaugh.

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