In 1962, two groundbreaking workshops led by artist Harvey K. Littleton and glass scientist Dominick Labino introduced artists to the material of glass as a medium for artistic expression. Littleton and Labino presented their development of a small, portable furnace and low temperature melting-point glass, providing artists access to glass and glassblowing techniques for the first time. These workshops kickstarted the American Studio Glass movement, which emphasized the artist as designer and maker, with a focus on making one-of-a-kind objects.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass movement, The Corning Museum of Glass will present two exhibitions. Founders of American Studio Glass: Harvey K. Littleton will feature works by the artist, spanning the arc of his career from his very first works in glass from the 1940s through his experiments with form and color into the 1980s. A complementary show, Founders of American Studio Glass: Dominick Labino, will present materials from Labino’s archives, which are held in the collection of the Museum’s Rakow Research Library. Both exhibitions will be on view November 17, 2011 - January 6, 2013.
“Although their technical skills were limited, the visionary approach that Littleton and Labino brought to their 1962 workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art served to introduce artists to the use of hot glass as a material for contemporary art,” says Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass at the Museum. “With Littleton’s active encouragement and promotion, glass programs sprang up at universities, art schools, and summer programs across the country during the late 1960s and early 1970s; and the Studio Glass movement became an international phenomenon. What began fifty years ago as a small group of artists who shared an interest in glass as an artistic material has grown into an international community of thousands.”
The Museum has been collecting Littleton’s work since the mid 1960s, both through acquisitions and donations, including those from Littleton and his family. Founders of American Studio Glass: Harvey K. Littleton will include nineteen vessels and sculptures and five vitreographs drawn from the Museum’s collection and the artist’s personal collection.
Littleton was born and raised in Corning, New York and was briefly employed by the Corning Glass Works in the 1940s, where he developed his glassmaking skills and began to pursue the idea of glass as a medium for artistic expression. The earliest objects in the exhibition are two experimental cast female torsos, dating to 1942 and 1946, which are the first works in glass made by Littleton while working at Corning Glass Works. Also featured are glass vessels from the early 1960s, dating to the years just after the seminal Toledo Workshops, as well as a bottle made at the 1962 Workshops, a recent gift to the Museum from the Littleton family.
At the end of the 1960s, Littleton re-evaluated his work, making the decision to turn away from the vessel in favor of sculptural work based on a vocabulary of geometric forms. The exploration of columns and tubes, color, and motion in glass occupied him for the rest of his career. The 1969 sculpture, Eye, reflects this new direction in Littleton’s work in glass.
In the 1970s, Littleton began his studies in printing on glass plates, a new concept that he called vitreography. Having tried his hand at sandblasting plate glass, it occurred to him that the strength of glass under compression made it ideal for printmaking. Despite the skepticism of one of his old friends, a printmaker at the University of Wisconsin who assisted him, Littleton inked one of the sandblasted plates and ran it through the etching press. The first plate broke, but Littleton was not deterred. Trial II is one of the first successful prints that Littleton made with his printing on glass technique. Littleton continued to make his vitreographs and invite other artists to make them through the 1990s.
In the late 1970s, Littleton began creating the works that would become his best-known—long, twisted and bent sculptures made of thick, solid tubes of clear glass enclosing layers of color, such as the 1984 Red/Amber Sliced Descending Form.
The latest sculpture in the exhibition, Gold and Green Implied Movement from 1987, reflects the gradual decrease in hot shop activity for Littleton, who had turned 65 in 1987. The long, thin cased forms of the “Implied Movement” and “Lyrical Movement” series were easier for Littleton to manipulate, but they still required him to move quickly with the hot glass.
Founders of American Studio Glass: Dominick Labino will explore Labino’s impact on glass technology, education, and art. Labino was a prolific inventor and research scientist, holding more than sixty patents in the United States over his lifetime. Three of his developments for glass fibers, having to do with insulation against extremes in temperatures, were used in the Apollo spacecraft.
Like Littleton, he was also dedicated to education. He helped set up glassblowing classes at colleges and universities and consulted on their studio planning. The year after the Toledo workshops, Labino also began to work with hot glass as an artistic medium. On his farm near Grand Rapids, Ohio, he set up his own studio. He designed and built his own furnaces, annealing ovens, glassblowing tools, and finishing equipment and created a laboratory for testing the properties of glass. He formulated his own glass compositions, achieving rich and unique colors that he used in his work.
The exhibition will document Labino’s legacy through a selection of letters, drawings, photographs, patents, and other materials—exploring his lasting influence on scientific and studio glass with a focus on his pivotal role in the seminal 1962 Toledo workshops with Littleton. The exhibition will also include Labino’s sculpture, Emergence, created in 1980.
The Museum will host two additional exhibitions in 2012 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of American Studio Glass. Masters of Studio Glass: Erwin Eisch (March 15, 2012 – February 3, 2013) will display iconic sculptures and vessels by Eisch, who had a profound influence on the development of American, as well as European, studio glass. Making Ideas: Experiments in Design at GlassLab (May 19, 2012 – January 6, 2013) honors the spirit of freedom and experimentation with artistic process that characterized the early years of the American Studio Glass movement with a focus on new glass design and the Corning Museum’s own GlassLab program.