Show Explores Glass, Both Functional and Artistic

All Blown Up

Date June 5, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


When the Gloryhole first opened in the old Canyon Road stables in 1968, it proclaimed its intentions with the motto €œQuality Glassware Made Fresh Daily.€

The business soon developed into a resource for artists interested in working with this malleable, expensive and incendiary art form.

A sweeping New Mexico Museum of Art exhibit opening Saturday traces several decades of glass from this state and beyond. The work ranges from vessels to minimalist sculpture, hand blown to cut and from ancient artifact to pop culture icon.

Harvey Littleton ignited the studio glass movement through his legendary workshops at the Toledo Museum in 1962. Littleton€™s philosophy and technique rippled across the country, trickling into New Mexico. Gloryhole owners Mel Knowles and Jack Miller both studied glass at the University of Iowa with Tom McGlauchlin, who learned from Littleton.

New Mexico€™s Charlie Miner worked at Santa Fe€™s Gloryhole for about a year. Encouraged by brisk sales, in 1975 he opened a studio first in Pojoaque, then in Tesuque, his current location. Glass sources were rare in those days. Artists melted down marbles, or in Miner€™s case, soda bottles.

By the mid-1970s, sales were as hot as molten glass. Miner learned €œif you made a piece of glass and it stood up and didn€™t fall over, you could go to craft fairs and do pretty well.€

€œI just really liked the immediacy of it,€ he said. €œWhen you blow glass, it all happens really, really fast. You can€™t let yourself be distracted or you€™ll get burned.€

Over the years, Miner€™s work has grown from the purely functional (perfume bottles, tumblers, lamps and vases) to the sculptural. His cast work €” he molds the casts using plaster of Paris, sand and silica €” helped him make the leap from craft shows to museum exhibits.

A children€™s tour group inspired Miner€™s €œRoswell Frogs€ and €œShape Shifter.€ The first sculpture shows a bevy of amphibians piloting a spaceship.

In €œShape Shifter,€ a group of frog seamen floats in a boat, while a lone sailor gazes backward. Miner based the piece on an American Indian legend.

€œIndians can change in time and space,€ he explained. €œThat€™s a group of Indians who decided to turn into frogs.€

Inspired by bombs

Galisteo artist Judy Tuwaletstiwa€™s €œAshes€ reaches back into New Mexico history, then turns it full circle. The artist was moved by a photograph of a hand holding a 3-inch-diameter black sphere; its size represented the amount of plutonium contained in the first atomic bomb. Tuwaletstiwa created four spheres: the first is black to represent plutonium. A mushroom cloud hovers within the second globe; the third swirls with ash, while the last blooms, a chrysalis of metamorphosis.

Glass world superstar Dale Chihuly brought the first kiln to New Mexico at the Institute of American Indian Arts in 1974. By the 1990s, American Indian glass spawned new energy through the work of Tony Jojola, a former Institute of American Indian Arts student who studied with Chihuly at Pilchuck Glass School. Jojola instigated a collaboration with Tacoma€™s Hilltop Artists in Residence to build a glass-blowing facility at Taos Pueblo. An interim studio opened in 1999. Although the permanent structure never materialized, the art form blossomed, with cross-pollination the result.

€œIt didn€™t go anywhere, but (Chilhuly) has great interest in Native American art,€ exhibit curator Laura Addison said. €œHe€™s a great collector of Pendleton blankets, Curtis (photo)gravures and Native American basketry.€

Chihuly first began allowing hot glass to retain its molten essence with his €œBasket€ series. The works emerged when he was captivated by antique Northwest Coast basketry at the Washington Historical Society. He responded to their wilted, worn shapes with graceful, slightly slumped forms.

Molten inspiration

In Santa Fe, glass artist Stacey Neff made €œSubsurface€ from blown glass and fiberglass. The organic forms could be fish, pods or some kind of alien organism.

€œI met this lovely woman who had been away on a research vessel studying whales,€ she said. €œI made it thinking of her. They€™re like two whales swimming next to each other.€

Lured by the molten material and its primal genesis, Neff switched from printmaking to glass while she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. She coats her pieces with fiberglass cloth as a kind of architectural armor.

With €œStar Seed,€ she wanted to create a microcosm of a macrocosmic seed, coated in pearlescent paint.

€œIt€™s sort of like a bacterium or a virus,€ she said, €œbut it also looks like a baby star. I like that mythology.€

Earthquake proof

Known for her cactusshaped sculptures, Flo Perkins moved near Pojoaque in 1982 because it was one of the only places in the United States where she could live in the country and access cheap natural gas. Perkins€™ tonguein-cheek €œEarthquakeware, T.M.€ (1979) depicts dinnerware sprouting rubber barbs or spikes. The artist said she added the spines to prevent the dinner set from breaking during an earthquake. At the same time, the works echo 17th-century German drinking glasses that boasted knobby €œprunts€ for a firmer drunken grasp.

€œIt wiggles all over the place,€ Perkins said, giggling. €œYou can€™t drink out of it without laughing.€

Perkins was inspired by earthquake digs when she was in graduate school at the University of California/Los Angeles. Her easy humor helped her through the awkwardness of learning to blow glass.

€œYou kind of have to be ADD,€ she explained. €œIt€™s 3- D, and it€™s melting in front of you. It€™s not a quiet and calm thing. You have to be able to do eight things at once.€

Perkins€™ €œPassing American,€ (2008) a jumble of juggling pins, works both as sculpture and wordplay. €œPassing€ could refer to two people passing pins in a flurry of orbits.

€œAmerican€ describes a type of juggling pin, versus European, a smaller version. But the title could also refer to America getting passed by the rest of the world. It could even mean €œpassing€ as an American at security checks.

This summer, Perkins will live a glass artist€™s dream when she spends two weeks in Venice at Vencini, Italy€™s most renowned contemporary glass factory.

€œThey want all cactus,€ she said. €œI€™m trying to show them how to do it. I€™m supposed to be designing them.

€œThere are going to be little cactuses all over Venice,€ she added, laughing. €œThey€™ll all get copied.€

Glass souvenirs

Tourists started taking home New Mexico glass as early as 1945, New Mexico Museum of Art curator Laura Addison said. When scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at southern New Mexico€™s Trinity Site, the blast heated the desert in a crucible of 14,710 degrees. The sand melted into glass. Known as trinitite, the mildly radioactive greenish glass was a popular souvenir until officials banned its removal in 1952.

If you go

WHAT: €œFlux: Reflections on Contemporary Glass€

WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon opening Saturday. Through Sept. 21.

WHERE: New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave.

COST: New Mexico residents with ID free Sundays. New Mexico seniors (60 and older) with ID free Wednesdays. Museum Foundation Members free. State veterans with 50 percent or more disability free. Students with ID $1 discount. Single visit: $8 for non-state residents; $6 state residents.

CONTACT: 476-5072

EXHIBITION GALA: From 6 to 9 p.m. tonight, €œThe Crystal Ball,€ organized by the Friends of Contemporary Art as a fundraiser to support contemporary exhibitions, acquisitions and public programs at the New Mexico Museum of Art.