Cowan’s work expresses the idea of preserving memories of earlier objects in new contemporary works, essentially breathing into them “second life,” she says.Like many of her pieces, the new Rakow Commission is made from found American pressed milk glass (opaque white glass) made between the 1940s and 1980s. Cowan collects long-forgotten objects like candy dishes, teacups, and plates from thrift shops, flea markets, and even eBay, and “reforms them into beautiful and evocative sculptures.” The discarded glass which she notes has been “abandoned to the dust bins of American design” is turned into tiny leaves, fruits, swans, roses and abstract spirals, bits and spikes.
The title of the piece—Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct—refers to the fact that the commercial milk glass that Cowan repurposes is no longer made. This common, inexpensive type of glass—originally traded for S&H Green Stamps—has been discarded and forgotten by contemporary culture, whose interests, styles, and fashions are vastly different from those of the era that the original glass represents.
Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct is flameworked, hot-worked, fused and sandblasted, and features include a pair of lambs, a lion, a double-humped camel, and a swan, all hidden in dense layers of flowers, patterned leaves, and floral elements.
“There’s actually a term that exemplifies my style,” Cowan said. “Horror vacui – the fear of empty space.”
In creating this commission, Cowan was inspired by 18th-century French objects in the Museum’s collection. She enjoys looking and relooking at the numerous lampworked glass figures and elaborate glass and shell decorations from this period. In them, she experiences what she describes as “hidden moments,” which she hopes people will discover in this sculpture.
Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct is now on display in the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family Gallery of Contemporary Glass at The Corning Museum of Glass. It will soon be moved to its new home in the contemporary galleries of the Museum’s North Wing Expansion, which opens March 20, 2015.
A video on the making of Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct is available on the Museum’s YouTube channel.
Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct is the Museum's 29th Rakow Commission. Inaugurated in 1986, the Rakow Commission is awarded annually to artists whose work is not yet represented in the Museum's collection. The commission supports new works of art in glass by encouraging emerging or established artists to venture into new areas that they might otherwise be unable to explore because of financial limitations. It is made possible through the generosity of the late Dr. and Mrs. Leonard S. Rakow, Fellows, friends, and benefactors of the Museum. Each commissioned work is added to the Museum’s permanent collection and is displayed publicly.
About The Corning Museum of Glass
The Corning Museum of Glass is home to the world’s most important collection of glass, including the finest examples of glassmaking spanning 3,500 years. Live glassblowing demonstrations (offered at the Museum, on the road, and at sea on Celebrity Cruises) bring the material to life. Daily Make Your Own Glass experiences at the Museum enable visitors to create work in a state-of-the-art glassmaking studio. The campus in Corning includes a year-round glassmaking school, The Studio, and the Rakow Research Library, the world’s preeminent collection of materials on the art and history of glass. Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York State, the Museum is open daily, year-round. Kids and teens, 19 and under, receive free admission. www.cmog.org.
The Museum is currently adding a North Wing, designed by Thomas Phifer, which will open March 20, 2015. The 100,000-square-foot North Wing addition will include a new 26,000-square-foot contemporary art gallery building, as well as one of the world’s largest facilities for glassblowing demonstrations and live glass design sessions.