By Jon L. Seydl, Museum Director
The United Nations General Council designated 2022 the International Year of Glass to recognize the essential role glass plays in society, including pioneering advances in telecommunication, clean energy, medicine, and optics. This Year is also meant to draw attention to the long history of glass in civilizations across the globe and the inventiveness of artists in glassmaking today.
Krannert Art Museum has excellent holdings in glass, from ancient Mediterranean examples to beadwork from across the globe to contemporary work, derived from the Studio Glass movement that emerged in the late 1950s.
Recently, I added some new works to our decorative arts gallery to celebrate the Year of Glass. While we always show glass there, with this installation I wanted to emphasize the diversity of artists in the collection.
Often modern and contemporary glass stories have centered male voices. For this reason I brought out goblets by Flora Mace. A graduate of the former glass program at Illinois, Mace was a trailblazer. She was one of the few women in the 1970s working in blown glass, then perceived as masculine work, partly owing to the physical demands of glassblowing.
Many contemporary glass artists take a functional form and transform it into sculpture. Paul J. Nelson (MFA '97) slyly made a work of fine art in the form of a teapot, which I installed near ceramic teapots from the 1800s. Nelson’s sculpture overrides any possible use, underscored by the handle in the form of a flame, which suggests that it's better for us to stand back and admire the craft than even think about picking it up. It comes from the important collection of glass formed by Jon and Judith Liebman.
An absolutely gorgeous work by Japanese glassmaker Kyohei Fujita, #12 Casket, Spring Blossoms, has come out of storage. I placed it between our magnificent collection of Asian ceramics and contemporary glass, to underscore how his work leaps bounds of time, medium, and geography. Fujita evokes a Japanese lacquer technique from the 1600s called maki-e that involves painting a design in lacquer, then sprinkling or embedding metal on the surface.
Finally, two contemporary works by Preston Singletary are on view, a gift to KAM by Len Lewicki, including a breathtaking basket made from blown and sandblasted glass. Singletary drew on his Tlingit (First Nations Canada) heritage to create contemporary glass inspired by historical Native forms. However, rather than simply recreating a Tlingit spruce root basket, he creates a new form by way of adaptation. Its translucence gives the impression of glowing from within, and the grey lip appears to hover radiantly over the basket, creating a work of art of stunning luminosity.