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Studio to Contemporary Glass: 1960s to Today

At the Brunnier Art Museum
Ann Brunnier Decorative Arts Gallery
Wednesday, September 8, 2021 to Friday, July 1, 2022

Studio glass in the United States is a relatively young artistic medium. Prior to the 1960s, glass could only be made in industrial or manufactory settings. The idea of an artist having a furnace and the skills to work with molten glass in their personal studios was impossible. Harvey K. Littleton, a ceramics professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and son of a Corning Glass Works physicist, believed it was possible to develop glass into an artistic medium akin to the burgeoning studio pottery movement he was witnessing at the time. After a visit to Europe in 1957 where he saw glass made on a smaller scale and while trying to blow glass himself in traditional Venetian glass houses on the island of Murano, he was convinced he could make studio glass a successful option for artists in America.

In 1962, Littleton led two experimental glassblowing workshops with a small group of invited graduate students at the Toledo Museum of Art. He also included his friend Dominick Labino, an accomplished engineer and inventor who had worked at multiple glass manufactories and at the time specifically with fiberglass. Labino also experimented with building his own glass furnaces and blowing glass himself. It was Labino who helped solve initial issues at the workshop by modifying the furnace and suggesting the use of specific fiberglass marbles rather than the glass batch they were attempting to use. The workshop was a success, glass could be blown outside of an industrial setting, and the exuberance and excitement gave great momentum to the development of American studio glass.

Littleton went on to begin the glass program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, which included three students all represented in this exhibition – Dale Chihuly, Marvin Lipofsky, and Fritz Driesbach. Littleton’s students were encouraged to work freely with glass in a way never thought possible and he pushed those students to begin programs at other American colleges and universities. Shortly thereafter, the ability to work with glass in a studio environment was being taught, disseminated, and spread to artists and students across the country. Many of those students became recognized artists and passed along their knowledge to the next generation of gaffers. These new studio glass artists, just as Littleton had, began to look to the glassmakers in Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Scandinavia. From those international artists they learned skills and techniques that had been passed down through generations, along with gaining exposure to glass artists taking traditional techniques to revolutionize contemporary glass.

Today, glass is a recognized artistic medium, one that continues to be highly experimental and innovative. Working with glass is unique; the inherent malleability of glass gives rise to great ingenuity, but it also takes understanding of the properties of the material. This allows for great collaboration in glass as artists work together to create objects and art, to learn how to work properly and safely with glass, and to develop wholly new ways of working with this unique material. In just 60 years, glass has revolutionized the world of art and it continues to create excitement each time an artist steps up to the furnace for the first time.

On exhibition is a selection of studio glass and artistic glass from the University Museums’ permanent collection, charting the early glass artists in America, to examples made in European manufactories, and works of art being created by some of the best-known glass artists today.


TOP IMAGE 180 Degree Rotation, Red, 1980 by Harvey K. Littleton. Blown and formed glass. This work of art was purchased with monies donated to the Kenneth Schumacher Memorial Fund with additional acquisition funding provided by Arthur Klein, Rachel Flint, and the generosity and support of Maurine Littleton.

SECOND IMAGE Tektite Portal, 2013 by Josh Simpson. Lead glass. Commissioned by University Museums. An Art in State Buildings Project for the Veterinary Medicine Research Labs.

THIRD IMAGE Zanfirico Pear, 1997 by Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace. Blown glass. Gift of the artists in memory of Virginia Kirkpatrick with additional funds provided by Bruce McKee.

BELOW LEFT Oil on Feather, 2019 by Preston Singletary. Blown, cased and sand carved glass. Gift in memory of Lori A. Jacobson from Jason D. Kogan.

BELOW RIGHT Sculpture, 1986 by Dominick Labino. Blown glass. Gift from the Estate of William Prindle.



Exhibition Programs

Find full descriptions of programs on the University Museums Calendar. All programs are free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged but not required. Events listed below will be at the Brunnier Art Museum unless otherwise noted. Programs are subject to change. Check the University Museums Calendar and Facebook page for the latest events information.


Curator's Exploration of Studio to Contemporary Glass: 1960s to Today

Sunday, September 19, 2:00-3:00 pm

From vibrant colors to striking forms, the assemblage of studio glass in the permanent collection examines the use of glass in contemporary art in the United States. It defies expectations for what glass can be. Enjoy a walking tour of the new exhibition Studio Glass from the Permanent Collection with Curator Adrienne Gennett.


Sunday Tour with the University Museums: Studio to Contemporary Glass

Sunday, December 5, 2:00-2:30 pm

Journey through the exhibition Studio to Contemporary Glass: 1960s to Today and learn about the diverse artistic expressions of the University Museums’ permanent collection. This tour will be given by University Museums Docent Roberta Vann and will spotlight the art of Dale Chihuly and his fanciful creations.

Visit the Brunnier Art Museum

Wednesday - Friday, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday, 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Closed to the public Monday & Tuesday. ISU curriculum tours may be scheduled on these days with a 2-week notice.

Closed University Holidays

Address: Scheman Building (2nd Floor), 1805 Center Drive, Ames, Iowa
Admission: The cost is free; however, there is a suggested donation of $8.

This exhibition is curated and organized by University Museums with generous support from Marcia and Jim Borel, Arthur Klein, and University Museums Membership.

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