Five artists shatter boundaries by experimenting in glass medium

Anyone still left wondering whether the new Pittsburgh Glass Center in Friendship will alter the general course of art making in Pittsburgh will be well swayed when visiting the Hodge Gallery there, where the exhibition "Artists Crossing Lines" is on display.

Featuring the work of five local artists who do not typically use glass as their primary medium, the exhibition proves that some artists in our region are willing to not only embrace the medium of glass but to push it to its limits.

Of course, all of the five-plus installation-type works on display would not be possible if not for the collaborative efforts of the center's experienced staff and the state of the art fabrication studios located there.

Up since the beginning of November, "Artists Crossing Lines" will close soon, marking the completion of the Pittsburgh Glass Center's first year in operation. But even before the center opened, Kathleen Mulcahy, the center's co-founder and permanent artist in residence, began planning and organizing the show.

"This show originated October 2001," Mulcahy says. "Because each artist needed to come in, look at the space, think about the process and begin to imagine his or her work in glass. Then we had to help them by figuring out how to translate their ideas into glass."

Mulcahy says she chose these artists because each had worked in an installation format before and all had extensive experience in their respective disciplines. And even though most of them had never worked with glass before, she says, "the most difficult part was that every piece needed time."

Such was the case with Ron Desmett's "Lidded Trunk Vessels," of which there are five in this show.

Desmett, a painter and sculptor, had the idea that he wanted to cast glass vessels in wood. Not unusual, since wood has been used in making molds for glass for centuries. But Desmett had an interesting twist on the old-fashioned idea: He wanted to blow glass into the hollowed tree trunks of rotting walnut trees.

That involved the laborious process of cutting up chunks of tree trunks, scraping out their soft, dead cores and soaking them in water to prepare them for the molten glass that was to be blown inside of them. The actual glass blowing of the vessels was another time-intensive process, because it was very much trial and error, Mulcahy says.

"For every one that was successful, we lost four or five," Mulcahy says. "There were whole days where we would blow (the glass) and we would just lose everything."

The results, however, were worth it. And visitors undoubtedly will agree when seeing their large, poetically textured forms, which are topped with lids made from smaller tree trunks.

Other works required equally exhaustive measures. For photographer Martin Prekop's "Gourd Tree," a photograph of a site-specific installation of real and blown-glass gourds hung on a flowering tree in Prekop's yard, more than 50 gourd-shaped orbs were made at the glass center. But Mulcahy says only about half were actually used, because with the first batch they made, the silver coating on the interiors of each that gives them their mirrored appearance would not stick. The final gourds used in the installation photograph are displayed in the gallery on a wooden rack in front of the picture.

Also more involved than expected was casting a life-size accordion in solid glass for painter Patricia Bellan-Gillen's "Family Ghost Story." Failed initial attempts required Mulcahy and staff to rethink traditional casting methods.

But in the final piece, all is right and nothing of the accordion's struggle to existence is evident when interacting with Bellan-Gillen's piece, which is engaged by stepping on a touch pad underneath a carpet that sets off a recording of old-time accordion music. Resulting in the perfectly lit, orange glass accordion to beam with nostalgia while it rests on a gray recliner opposite the touch pad.

Also engaging, but metaphorically so, is assemblage artist Andrew Johnson's "Infant Justice" piece, which is comprised of two cribs that have been painted black and accented with blown-glass baby toys. One has two clear-glass rattles that have rocks in either end laying inside of it. The other has a mobile full of clear-glass gavels dangling over it, resulting in a poignant statement about the fragility of our present-day judicial system.

And then there is Carol Kumata, an installation artist whose piece, "Fragile," is a huge mass of suspended, clear-glass candelabras filled with candles. Underneath, the word "fragile" is spelled out in dripped candle wax on the floor, further emphasizing the inherent delicacy of the medium itself as seen in the intricately intertwined pieces of thin blown and flame-worked glass that comprise the piece.

All in all, the works are delightful and surprisingly well conceived and well crafted, given that this was, for most of these artists, their first attempt at making art with glass.

600450 Five artists shatter boundaries by experimenting in glass medium

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