Glass Art Society Journal Biographical Statement, 2014
Illustrating With a Glass Pallette — Page 2
A focus on the material qualities of glass has guided some of my conceptual thinking and objects made of glass by many predecessors were inspiring. As I studied the history of glass and discovered the work of the ancient Egyptians, or the creative genius of Galle, the Daum, Lalique, the material as a medium for art became more and more intriguing. The designs of Martinuzzi and Barovier were influential as I studied while working in the Venini factory. The accomplishments of these workshops and factories pulled me toward functional art, and that interest has never faded. Modernist art, from Van Gogh to Pop Art, was also a powerful influence on my development as an image-maker, and I am still strongly attracted by the works of Bosch, Caravaggio, to which I was introduced as a student. Like many artists I am intrigued and excited by works of other artists from the past, and I could list hundreds of names and places where I have found inspiration. These various instigators of thought, and a focus on glass and metal, have prompted the interpretation of my drawings as objects for many years.
I never produced more than experimental work as a student. It took me several years at PCA and RISD before I had made something I considered to be resolved. Most of my student works were throwaways, until the last year of graduate school. There I focused on a series of, of which were more sculptural than functional. When I moved to Italy and worked at the Venini factory one year, focused again on illuminated pieces. Although the work I did there was appreciated by many factory workers and their in-house designers, the owner, Ludovico Diaz de Santillana, gave me a critique at the end of my stay which was an eye-opener. He looked at all the pieces I had made from Venini glass that also included metal parts I had made at the factory. He walked around smacking his forehead saying, “These are mad! These are mad!” He did keep two of them as prototypes but they were never produced. Before leaving Italy I had a show in Rome at the US Embassy with those illuminated pieces. When the show came down my work was shipped to Boston where I continued to develop ideas for illuminated sculpture.
Massachusetts College of Art hired me to start a glass program in 1973. With the help of students I built a studio, and began to establish a program for glass studies. In addition to the support of the college, I was able to secure donations of materials, machinery, and expertise from many companies including Corning Glass, AP Green, Eastern Refractories, Boston area machine shops, electrical supply companies, and an MIT electronic surplus warehouse. There was a feeling of constant development that encouraged professional aspirations in the program as it grew and more students came to Mass Art. We started an MFA program in Glass, and I was asked to begin a Fine Arts 3D program at the college to expand on the existing Ceramics and Sculpture courses being taught. We added jewelry and fibers, and hired several new faculty members. My administrative duties had expanded to a demanding level, and were distracting me from the art I imagined I would create. When I was awarded tenure I felt as though a door was closing on me, and I began to plan an exit from full-time teaching.
In 1975 I met Otto Piene, a founder of Group Zero in Germany, who asked me to accept a fellowship at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. Otto and I invented a class we would teach together, titled Glass, Gas, and Electricity. The MIT students were quite different from the Mass Art students, and all of us found much interest in the exchange of viewpoints and skills in a variety of disciplines. Also the potential of the facilities at each school excited the students a great deal. My own projects at MIT were to develop a group of light bulbs with the research lab for electronics, and to destroy some of my glass vases in the photo lab of Harold Edgerton. None of these experiments were successful, but I learned a few things that have been useful on later works. My involvement with MIT those five years left a solid impression of interest in the way things work and an attitude of assessment of problems from various perspectives unrelated to art.
In 1977 I was invited by Jacques Daum to work at Cristallerie Daum in Nancy, France. Linda MacNeil, my wife, and I went there for two months and worked in the factory, making models and test casting them in pate de verre. At the end of the stay I was asked to return the next year and one of my models was selected for edition. This began a relationship that continues with Daum. Numerous works were made as editions of 150 or 200, and several designs have been produced in unlimited quantities. Although the Daum family no longer owns the company, there is still an attitude of positioning Daum as an art entity as opposed to an industrial concern.
Factories have been inspiring to me because of the potential they offer. Having a giant facility and skilled, dedicated workers who want to be involved in my projects has expanded the possibility to create works I cannot build in my own studio, even with several assistants. Having the invitation and support of the factory owners has been crucial to the working relationships, and I have tried to develop my work with them so that it benefits their enterprise as well as my own. These working experiences have influenced my personal studio work, where I have employed skilled assistants since about 1976. Having had a carpentry business during my college years, it was easy to take on the responsibilities of hired help for the work I wanted to make. We began to create complex works with hundreds of parts that took months to build, which supplemented the blown glass vase forms and simpler illuminated pieces for exhibition in galleries.
From 1978 to 2006 when I traveled to France for work at Daum, I often took a flight from Boston to Paris that would arrive at 7:00AM on a Sunday. I would take a cab to a hotel and put my bags in the lobby closet, then begin walking, sometimes with no particular destination in mind. Usually this was in winter so it was often raining, but Paris has hundreds of great public places where you can ignore the weather. In addition to museums of all kinds, I went to the flea markets and antique centers to look at art and objects. Just walking around the city with such a collection of building details, lighting, doors, railings, interior and exterior patterns and surface treatments fascinated me. The incredible variety of decorative arts would get me thinking about motifs and forms and when I returned to the hotel I made drawings based on my observations. These drawings added to the accumulating resource in sketchbooks, and were mostly unrelated to my work with Daum. On Monday morning I would have a meeting at the company headquarters, and later take the train to Nancy. On the way back I usually spent another day or two in Paris. These visits to observe the city were a great pleasure, and I occasionally return. Certainly the Art Deco works I discovered in Paris were influential, and I had already followed the work of Lalique and Daum, but it is particular stylistic qualities of that period that had the most impact on my way of interpreting drawings in form and materials. The high contrast graphic qualities of Art Deco, and the geometric stylization of nature or balanced symmetrical forms in space, became habits of approach to forms I create. The use of glass and metal in combination with nickel and gold plating and other metal surfacing treatments, gives my work a certain quality often associated with that period of design history. My attraction to acid polished surfaces on glass also goes back to historic precedents. This is part of what I call an “Industrial Palette,” which relates directly to the use of processes outside of my studio to achieve the results envisioned when drawing a piece I will create.