Heart of Glass - Blenko Glass
Blenko Glass is a West Virginia treasure that spans generations. Nothing symbolizes the state of West Virginia better or more beautifully than Blenko Glass. We will discuss current and former craftsmen and designers and how important it is that Blenko and West Virginia glass be appreciated and valued by the younger generation.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Art of Glass
Alumni from the glass program in the Tyler School of Art bring fresh perspectives to the glass art community.
By Maria Raha
To work with glass, artists have to be quick on their feet, says John Pomp, TYL ’96, a home designer who sells hand-blown glass fixtures and hand-fabricated steel furniture and décor. Because of the heat and malleability of glass, glassworkers have to be as fluid as the medium itself.
“It’s a fast-moving process,” Pomp explains. “I grew up skiing and skateboarding, and it’s very much akin to those sports. Because it’s so unforgiving and has a nature of its own, glass wants to do what it wants to do. It’s moving, it’s falling to the floor, it’s cooling off and it has a lot of rules.”
For those reasons and more, creating art from glass can be a very complicated challenge. But around the world, the practice thrives. And with the abundance of artists—not to mention graduates of the Tyler School of Art Glass program— in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, interest in glass art is increasing.
In addition to glassblowing studios, East Falls Glassworks offers a glassblowing camp for teens, and Philadelphia Glass Works, located in the city’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, holds flameworking and other classes that are open to the public. Visitors to Pennsylvania can explore the craft by following the Pennsylvania Glass Trail, a self-guided tour that runs from Lancaster to Bethlehem with stops at the studios of seven different glass artists, including Taylor Backes Studio, owned by Will Dexter, TYL ’79, and Karla Trinkley, TYL ’79.
Rika Hawes, TYL ’06, owns Philly Cold Cuts, a glass business based in a warehouse that rents studio space to artists called Art Making Machine Studios. Joseph DiGiuseppe, TYL ’06, Joshua Kerner, TYL ’06, and Christopher Golas, TYL ’06, began Art Making Machine Studios after graduating from Tyler.
Through Philly Cold Cuts, Hawes provides coldworking services to clients. “‘Coldworking’ refers to all of the techniques and processes used when glass is cold,” she says, “including cutting, grinding, polishing, faceting, engraving and more.” Processes that develop and shape the glass while it is still molten, such as fusing and casting, happen in “hot” studios.
Not surprisingly, Tyler is deeply intertwined with this burgeoning community. In the Philadelphia region alone, approximately 10 studios are run by Tyler alumni. In addition, Tyler graduates teach at some of the most highly regarded glass programs in the nation, including the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash.—founded by renowned artist Dale Chihuly —and at institutions such as University of the Arts in Philadelphia and Tulane University in New Orleans.
Cultivating the Program
In new 10,000-square-foot studio space on Main Campus, glass students are learning the craft on state-of-the-art equipment in cold, hot and hot casting shops; a kiln room; a flameworking studio; a majors studio, where each undergraduate student has a dedicated area in a shared space; and graduate studios, where each student has private studio space.
“What began in one studio has evolved into one of the leading programs in the nation,” says Professor Emeritus Jon Clark, who established glass as a major at Tyler in 1973.
Initially, Clark was drawn to glass because of its “transformative” and “spontaneous” qualities. In 1969, as an undergraduate student, he traveled through Europe to explore the continent’s glass traditions in cities known for glass art, such as Venice, and to become better versed in its history and technology.
Clark brought his well-rounded glass education to Tyler, where the new program focused on the medium’s international and historical aspects. In addition to glassblowing, Clark incorporated skills such as fusing, construction and stained glass into the program. The department became one of many facets of Tyler that attracted pioneering, intrepid and meticulous student artists.
Students such as Jessica Jane Julius, TYL ’03, interim head of the glass department at the University of the Arts, and Doreen Garner, TYL ’10, who currently works at Willet Hauser Stained Glass in Philadelphia, first studied glass in undergraduate classes. In order to choose a major and to discover the best way to reach their artistic goals, Tyler students are required to treat their art education as an adventure: The young artists take classes in different media.
Today, the department is led by Head of Glass Sharyn O’Mara. The program combines creativity with courses that emphasize the history, chemistry and technical aspects of glass production. In addition to blowing, fabrication, fusing, casting and kiln work, students are responsible for running hot and cold studios and for learning to build the tools they need for their work.
On any given day, Tyler’s hot shop comes alive when students begin arriving at approximately 5 a.m. “From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., classes are held inside and outside the shop,” O’Mara says. “After 6 p.m., and on weekends, it is studio time for the students. Music is always playing and they are working like crazy. The studio has a great energy and cultivates an amazing sense of community.”
Through Tyler’s well-rounded approach to glass as a technically complex craft, the school provides its students with skills that can lead to jobs at studios such as Philly Cold Cuts.
“[Coldworking] can be very demanding, both physically and emotionally,” Hawes explains. “I am extremely fortunate to be in a city teeming with glass artists that have the education and experience required for the work.” Most of the artists who work with her also are Tyler alumni.
Crafting the Unexpected
With its simple, elegant blends of industrial, classic and modern styles, John Pomp’s work is made at John Pomp Studios in Philadelphia. He has created product lines for Tiffany & Co. and Donna Karan, and his work is sold in stores such as Barney’s in New York City. Tyler is never too far from his work: Jesse Daniels, TYL ’05, is Pomp’s lead fabricator. And, he was initially introduced to glass through Norman Ed, TYL ’81, his high school teacher.
While Pomp’s craft mixes form and function, Doreen Garner creates image-driven sculptures that are often highly personal and visceral, expressing her political and social experiences as a young black woman—an approach she began honing at Tyler.
She describes glass as an effective medium for her expression. “It complements [my work] mostly because of its physical qualities. It can be translucent or opaque. It brings forth a lot of ideas about strength or fragility.”
Garner views this range of possibilities as one of the reasons many artists favor working with glass. “If you like to sculpt, you can do castings; if you like to draw and paint, you can do stained glass; if you’re a perfectionist, you can blow classic vessels,” she explains. “Glass caters to every artist’s desires.”
Andrew Newbold, TYL ’05, a former adjunct assistant professor at Tyler and a sculptor who transforms spaces with large-scale sculptures and installations, appreciates the material’s enigmatic qualities. “My work is heavily influenced by surroundings and personal experience,” he explains. “The larger-scale works are architectural, experiential and sometimes site-specific. Often, mystery, subtlety and illusion exist.” Newbold recently installed an exhibition at the Zephyr Gallery in Louisville, Ky., for the 2010 Glass Art Society Conference. Che Rhodes, TYL ’98, and Amy Ritter, TYL ’09, were on hand to help.
The Tyler Glass program also produces performers, such as Jessica Jane Julius. She co-founded Burnt Asphalt, a performance troupe that incorporates glass into performances about gender roles and domesticity. Julius and four other women founded Burnt Asphalt when they were fellows at the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, N.J.
Though these artists have divergent visions about their craft, they agree on the impact Tyler had on their creativity.
“[Tyler] was my foundation,” Julius states. “It was my foundation for thinking about a material, even for thinking about teaching. It definitely influenced my work.”
Hawes recalls, “I was truly free, for the first time, to explore my own inherent interests with the support and guidance of brilliant faculty members and exemplary minds.”
To watch video of glassblowing at Tyler, click here .