Thursday, April 12, 2012

Glass


Sunlight coming through the "glass ceiling" (full of glass sculpture) on the bridge.

While we were in Tacoma last week, we went to a museum called the Museum of Glass.  I've long been interested in glass art (sculpture?), and Sam and I saw some Chihuly when we were in Arizona a few years ago---I loved it!  Dale Chihuly lives in the Seattle area, I believe, and had something to do with the creation of this museum.  Anyway, I wanted to go by there while we were in the vicinity, at least to see the outdoor sculptures and the glass bridge (pictured above and at bottom of post). 
After some debate (everything is expensive, of course) we decided to go into the museum as well, and I was SO glad we did! It was spectacular. This glass volcano-like structure (above) . . .
housed the glass-blowing workshop where you could watch the artists at work. It was mesmerizing. We watched for two hours and Sebby still started to cry when we said we had to leave. The glass seems so foreign when it's molten---like a different substance altogether. Which it is, I suppose. The way the colors changed and deepened with the heat, and the fluidity of the forms as the artists blew or pulled with tongs or hammered at them, was so beautiful. It made me so want to try it myself! Maybe someday. Although it's probably Sam, not me, who would be good at it.

Just as amazing as the workshop was this exhibition, "Beauty Beyond Nature: the Glass Art of Paul Stankard."
I'm afraid I can't adequately describe Stankard's glass art. He does tiny, meticulously detailed renderings of flowers and other botanicals, made of and encased in glass orbs or rectangles. Some are paperweights; others more free-form sculptures, but all are exquisite. I could have spent hours examining each piece: each tiny petal, each entwined root, each furred bumblebee; each impossibly delicate stem. We watched a film that showed some of his artistic process (though not enough--I wish there was a complete documentary), and it was fascinating. He quoted the Latin motto laborare est orare"my work is my prayer," and talked about how his studies for art have informed his faith. He doesn't attempt total scientific accuracy in his renderings of flowers and plants, but rather tries to evoke feelings of awe and reverence for nature, and contemplation of natural themes of life and death, in his viewers.*

As I was looking for pictures that did justice to Stankard's work, I found this blog post that shows a few pictures of the process. You may find it interesting as well.
Image by Fernando Gaglianese, from this post

Lily of the valley. I would buy this one if I had $6000 or so lying around.
It's so hard to tell from pictures alone, but let me remind you that these are made ENTIRELY OF GLASS. Each tiny piece is shaped and sculpted and then placed delicately in its exact spot. I can't imagine how he gets so many visual textures---different opacities, striations, etc.---out of one medium. And the way the outer glass is so dazzlingly clear, making the inner display appear to float suspended in midair! Simply amazing. I found it so elevating to look at this art---to marvel at the technical mastery of it, yes, but also to see the warmth and vibrancy of nature captured in such an unlikely form. Glass---the transparency of it, the way it holds and flings the light---suddenly seems the perfect foil for the natural world. It drew my thoughts to the creator of the "originals," and gave me an even higher appreciation for His artistry.

If I lived in Seattle, I'd go back to this Museum again and again. It was one of the best parts of our visit!
*It reminds me of a phrase I recently read that the composer Manuel de Falla used (admiringly) to describe Debussy's Spanish music: "truth without authenticity."  This was Falla's goal as well---not to use actual Spanish folk music, but to elicit the feeling of a specific time and place, to create a "true" and familiar world for the listener, while using new and original music.

2 comments:

  1. I have always been fascinated by glass. I used to stare into my little marbles - for very long (for me) periods of time, trying to understand how the shapes and colors got in there. I believed that, if I broke open the outer, clear glass, I could take the ribbons of red out whole, or the tiny stars or whatever. That I could remove them and hold them in my palm. I went through a period of cooking marbles, then dropping them into cold water. Some merely cracked - which was interesting. But some broke. And I learned that some things cannot be extracted from the orbs in which they are embedded.

    Then I did stained glass. And though it was cold glass, it fascinated me, too. And years after that, I fused. Did quite a bit of tiny fusing. And one time, I did lampwork - just the once, with Cass Barney's husband. One lumpy but lovely bead.

    I would have cried with Sebby, I think.

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  2. The latin phrase - can I remember it? Labrare es orare? It really struck me. It should actually be the by-word of every LDS person, whatever they do, don't you think?

    And here's my lingering question - how does he encase these delicate things in a perfect sphere without melting them? I know - I've done lampwork on a very small scale - and I can guess at how the outer globe is fashioned (by a TOTAL artist and craftsman, to get that perfect, clear sphere). But it would have to be on a tremendous scale with astonishing speed. Still - molten glass - how does it not reduce the center piece to blobs?

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