03 April 2012

Kiln Formed Glass History - Part 2

Exploring Technique and Content - the '60's, '70's & '80's



Untitled sculpture, Mary Shaffer, fused and slumped industrial sheet glass, 1975

As part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations in honor of the 1962 Toledo Glass Workshop, the Washington Glass School blog is looking the heritage of the art movement. This is the second part in an historical overview of how fused glass (aka kiln-formed, or warm glass) fits into the contemporary Studio Art Glass Movement. Much of the information was based on published writings by Martha Drexler Lynn, William Warmus & Beth Hylen, Richard LaLonde, Dan Schwoerer & Boyce Lundstrom and from the Corning Museum of Glass library.

The 1962 Toledo glass workshops indeed marked a watershed. After the workshops, glass moved into university and college programs and significantly into fine arts programs. After the two workshops, by 1964, (hot) glass artists were increasingly college educated in fine arts degree programs that required the same course work demanded for painting or sculpture. In the early days of the Studio Glass Movement the compelling attitude was the quest to spread the word and distance glass art from both the factory and hobbyist. Hot glass had reconstituted itself with the museum’s blessing, and had achieved a new identity.
Other aspects also had an influence on the growing art movement. The young artists were entranced by notions of an alternative lifestyle free of the establishment values of the older generation. “We were hippies, Okay? People have to understand that. No watches, no underwear, no nothing” remembers Toots Zynsky regarding the early days at Pilchuck. Learning to make art with glass, rejecting bourgeois rules, and living an anti-establishment lifestyle were irresistible and became part of the lore both of Pilchuck and of the glass movement in general.


Clipped Grass, Mary Ann "Toots" Zynsky, green tinted fused and thermo-formed glass threads, 1982

Antique collecting in the 1960’s brought about a renewed interest in stained glass. Citi
es such as Denver, CO became trading centers for stained glass windows removed from old East Coast houses and buildings. The demand for turn-of-the-century stained glass encouraged studios to create works ranging from Tiffany style reproductions to contemporary designs.

The rapid growth of the new stained glass studios across the country, brought about by the demand for stained glass, was made possible by new types of glass manufacturers and the influence of the growing Studio Glass movement and Harvey Littleton.
Ray Ahlgren, Dan Schwoerer, Boyce Lundstrom
The modern stained glass movement, started by mimicking the traditional work evolved into a very diverse art form. Boyce Lundstrom, one of the founders of Bullseye Glass Company wrote:
Our experience in the glass world pointed to a need for more colored sheet glass for the stained glass industry…(I) began working with glass in 1965, when I joined the new glass program established by Dr. Robert Fritz that year at San Jose State University in San Jose, California. At that time I was a ceramics major, studying with one of the great ceramic glaze technicians of our time, Dr. Herbert Sanders. The close correlation between the calculating and making of ceramic glazes and the process of making glass is a natural one. So, as a potter studying glaze calculation, I found it natural to apply the technology to glass, and was soon drawn by the material.

In Dr. Fritz’s program I learned to control all phases of the process of making finished blown objects. We built glass melting equipment, calculated and melted batch, formed the glass, and carried out all the cold working processes for finishing the annealed work. After my graduation from San Jose State, in 1967, I operated a ceramics and glass studio in southern California for two years before my wife and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, in late 1969, where I blew glass for galleries and craft fairs. While participating in craft fairs and shows, I met many other glass artists who had become infatuated with hot glass in the early years of the studio blowing movement in this country. We were all struggling to support our individual studios and families, while experimenting
with new glasses and equipment.”


Two of those artists were Ray Ahlgren and Dan Schwoerer, who were partners in a glass blowing. (Ray Ahlgren started his glass career in Wisconsin in 1965. His background in ceramics, glass blowing, glass chemistry, studio fabrication and design. Daniel Schwoerer graduated from the University of Wisconsin where he also worked in the art department as graduate assistant to Professor Harvey Littleton in 1968-69. He then moved to Portland, where he set up a glassblowing studio. In 1974 the three self-described "hippie glassblowers" started Bullseye Glass Company, a small factory for making specialty sheet glass - initially focused on making
colored sheets for use in stained glass.)

Ray Ahlgren, fused glass tiles, plywood, 1982

Said Boyce: “For the next four years, the pressing demands of an infant company consumed all of my time. In 1978 I began designing independent stained glass panels, executed for me by more capable craftspersons.
Since, at Bullseye, we produced mixed colors of glass daily, and had control of the formulas, it seemed a foregone conclusion that we could make sheet glass with similar coefficients of expansion.

Boyce Lundstrom, red glass fused bowl, 1979

The thought process went something like this: if sheet glasses had the same coefficient of expansion, they could be cut into shapes and fused together. So, I started experimenting in 1979 or 1980--I don't know exactly when because the process was slow at first, fraught with many failures and just a few successes. If there was one memorable breakthrough, it was the application of the method of testing for stress with a polarimeter (from glass blowing) to glasses fused to a clear sheet glass with a constant coefficient of expansion.


When making sheet glass it is not important to have a constant coefficient of expansion among all the glasses. Single colors can all be different and mixed colors only have to be within one or two coefficient points of one another. In glass blowing it is not uncommon to use glasses together that vary in coefficient of expansion by four or five points, because the casing process holds the glass together. But when fusing glass flat, the glasses must be very close in coefficients. Establishing a clear glass as a constant, and then formulating the melt for all colors to fit that constant, made the contemporary glass fusing movement possible.


The ability to fuse glass, by taking it through the complete process of heating, holding and annealing, then checking the finished results with an accurate test, really stimulated my dreams of unlimited possibilities. I saw kiln fired glass as the wave of the future, providing freedom for all those who would like to be freed of the lead lines! Tiles, windows, bowls, sculptures, and building facades could all be made with fused sheet glass... By 1981, I became adamant about producing glass for the fusing market at Bullseye Glass. My remaining partner, Dan Schwoerer, supported me in my one-man campaign to make fusing available to everyone. During the next few years we succeeded in making available a line of fusing compatible glasses. By 1983 we were teaching fusing in diverse parts of the world, establishing a line of products and working with kiln manufacturers to get kilns designed for glass on the market.”
The influence by the hot glass education and artwork by the artists that came from the universities now teaching glass artwork outlined the directions that warm or kiln-formed glass would take. In the late 1960s there was the emphasis on technology and education. The glass artwork was part of broader international craft movement of the 1960s in which clay, fiber, wood, and metal are used for creative expression.

Gyes Arcade, Christopher Wilmarth, flat and curved plate glass elements, 1969
In 1969, glass was rarely seen in contemporary art, especially in large-scale sculpture. However, the American Studio Glass Movement was gathering national momentum. Many studio glass artists looked at contemporary sculpture, such as Gyes Arcade, for inspiration on how glass might be treated artistically.

At the 1972 National Sculpture Conference in Lawrence, Kansas, Harvey Littleton introduces his phrase “Technique is cheap” that continues to influence artists. The dichotomy between the sculptor in search of form (the “technique is cheap” attitude) vs. the craftsman striving to create a perfectly executed functional object is a strong motivation for many artists.


Bowl #2, Mary T Warren, glass, wire, 1978
The explosion of glass schools and studios in the 1970s and 1980s paves the way for a new industry of glass tools, equipment and glass suppliers.
Glass kilns originally were ceramic kilns with cones that required watching the stage and temperature of the progress. With the programmable computer controls, the fused glass industry was revolutionized. In the early 1980s Spectrum Glass introduced System 96, and Bullseye Glass introduces its "Tested Compatible" glass designed specifically for fusing.
Mosaic Bowl, Klaus Moje, glass, 1978
The work by glass artists pursue narrative, political, gender issues and create more multimedia work, combining glass with other materials (wood, metal, paint, stone). The “Art vs. craft” debate pushes aside technical issues.
Blast Off To Oblivion, Richard LaLonde, fused glass panel, 1983
By the mid-1980's there was an explosion in alternatives to hot glass: p√Ęte de verre, lampworking, kilnworking, coldworking, even microwaved glass jewelry, and women play an increasingly prominent role in the glass movement. With the increase in interest and new glass specific art galleries emerging, art museums begin to exhibit glass in contemporary art sections - and the interest in glass art helps glass magazines flourish.
Charles Parriott, glass, enamels in sgraffito technique, ca 1983
Pajaritos en la Cabeza (Little birds in the head) and Cabellos de Angel (Angel hair), Toots Zynsky, fused and thermo-formed glass threads, 1988
In the summer of 1971, Dale Chihuly brought a small group of his friends and a few RISD students, including Toots Zynsky, to Washington State. There, she participated in the founding and early development of Pilchuck Glass School. By early 1972, she was making installations with slumped plate glass. In 1973, she began experimenting with video and performance works that incorporated hot and cold glass with artist Buster Simpson. Her experimental work—which was characteristic of much of the art being made in the 1970s—was important for the development of glass as a material to explore issues in contemporary art.
Throughout the 1980's art glass collectors sought to build collections based less on investment value and more on the inherent worth of the artworks and auctions of contemporary glass begin at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The camaraderie of collectors and friendly competition for the glass artworks lead to a relatively stable market and the development of a glass community. In 1985, Glass Weekend begins at Wheaton Village, Millville, NJ. The biennial seminar brings together leading contemporary glass artists, collectors, galleries, and museum curators.
Opposing Fields, Charles Parriott, glass, silk-screened decal imagery, 1982
As it became more acceptable for artists to use of glass as a fine-art medium, there began a more expansive use of glass as a component - there was more multimedia work, where glass was combed with other materials (wood, metal, paint, stone), and a perceived reaction against the “beauty” of glass. Artists continued to pursue narrative, political, gender issues as expressed in the glass.

In 1989 the late Dan Klein, former director of Christie’s auction house and studio glass collector noted that hot glass, which had “enjoyed what seems in retrospect a disproportionate degree of popularity during the 1960’s lost ground to other techniques, until it was felt during the 1980’s that it had been almost completely phased out”.
An interesting note to end this segment of the history of fused glass within the context of the American Studio Glass Movement.

Click HERE to jump to Part 1 of the Washington Glass School blog about the History of Fused Glass.

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