Commentary: St. Louis is a major player in the art of glass | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: St. Louis is a major player in the art of glass

Dec 2, 2016

Credit Nancy Kranzberg

While visiting the Palm Springs Art Museum in California, I wandered into the magnificent Ostergaard Glass Galleries and feasted my eyes on some glorious works of art. A very informative documentary  titled,"Pilchuck: A Dance With Fire" was playing outside the galleries. The film told of how Pilchuck was founded by the iconic figure Dale Chihuly and a few art friends in the counterculture days of the early 70s. Pilchuck Glass School pushed the boundaries from its very beginnings. Because of Pilchuck located north of Seattle, surrounded by a 60 acre tree farm, Seattle now rivals Venice as the international studio glass capital of the world.

Our own nationally famous Sam Stang attended Washington University from 1980 to 84 and was a student of Fritz Dreisbach at Penland School of Crafts in 1983. He was also a student of world famous glass maker Lino Tagliapietra at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine.

Stang says that the American Studio Glass movement which began in the 1960's introduced the concept of artists using small scale furnaces to make glass themselves as opposed to the tradition of glass being made in factories where the glassmaker had no part in the design. This movement first appeared in the Midwest initially through universities, most notably SIU Carbondale with Bill Boysen. The first commercial or private glass studio in St. Louis was founded by Sam Stang, David Levi and Dimitri Michaelides in 1985 and ran until 1992. Ibex was heavily influenced by contemporary European design and mid-century Venetian glass as well as the work of the early American studio glass pioneers. A number of important glass artists visited and made glass pieces at the Ibex studio including the great master Lino Tagliapietra of Murano and Swedish masters Jan Eric Ritzman and Sven Ake Carlsson. These experiences proved to be pivotal in the development of a unique style that coupled a sense of history with the excitement and challenge of a constantly advancing esthetic.

Jiyong Lee now heads the Glass program at SIU Carbondale  which is a part of the School of Art and Design. Lee who has been the head for many years says that the glass program has been transformed from a glassblowing program to a well-rounded glass program that students can pursue in a variety of glasswork including cold process working, casting and fusing using kilns, and glassblowing. The SIU glass program is one of the few glass programs in the country that facilitate all areas of glass with offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts degree. 

Lee is an artist in his own right and you can see his work, currently on view, at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis.

Duane Reed says, "I was impressed by the seriousness of the studio glass movement long before I opened my own gallery in 1994. It was mind-blowing to grasp the creativity that was emerging and the level at which artists were considering scientific approaches and creative ones. In order to work with glass, you have to understand the chemistry as well as have a vision. I have watched with great interest numbers of "contemporary painters and sculptors" that have now filtered into the movement such as Kiki Smith, Donald Lipski and Jim Dine." 

Reed goes on to say that artists started emerging that made major impacts on how we saw the medium and became, in their own rights, art stars of the glass movement. However, even the most expensive work selling doesn't come close to the investment that one needs for major names in contemporary painting. That opened a door for collectors to get on board with the best available for a fraction of what was happening elsewhere in the art world. 

Doug Auer, co-founder of Third Degree Glass Factory on Delmar says that the space was founded simply as a place to create glass, but over our 14 years, it has evolved into a growing community of glass artists sharing their passion for their craft. This community environment encourages the sharing of ideas and opportunities for artists to continuously improve their technique. It's like a co-working space, just a lot hotter.

Auer says, "While most of our artists rent time to produce their artwork, Third Degree also gives them opportunities to showcase their skills and knowledge through live demonstrations, interactive hands-on experiences, and informative classes to inspire future glass artists."

You don't have to go to the west coast to enjoy glass as a buyer or maker. It's all right here in St. Louis and the surrounding area.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.