Tacoma’s own Museum of Glass is currently hosting a swanky show that explores the virtuous cycle of influence and counter-influence between the art glass community of the Pacific Northwest and that of Australia. Entitled “Links: Australian Glass and the Pacific Northwest,” the show embodies the story of how the Pacific Northwest has figured in the development of a thriving community of glass artists in Australia. Beginning in the 1970s the Australian government invited glass artists from abroad to come and jump-start an Australian studio glass movement. Artists and institutions affiliated with the Pacific Northwest played a key role in this process. Today many of the studio glass artists of Australia are influential leaders in the international glass movement.
“Links” consists of dozens and dozens of individual art pieces by many of these Australian artists. Also included are pieces by a few of the Northwest artists that played a role in the growth of the Aussie glass community. Among the latter are Richard Marquis and Dante Marioni. Marquis was among the first of the American apostles of studio glass who, beginning in 1974, went “down under” to spread the gospel of glass blowing. Seemingly complex yet whimsical works like “Elephant in Boat on Wheels” and “Crazy Quilt Coffee Pot” capture Marquis’ colorful and playful approach to blown glass. One of Marquis’ first Australian converts to blown glass was Nick Mont who is represented by several of his “Scent Bottles.” The brilliance and elegance of these owe a debt to Marioni who has taught classes and workshops in Australia on numerous occasions.
Australian glass blowers are well represented by the likes of Gabriella Bisetto and Nadge Desgenétez, the latter of whom produced a series of elongated vessels inspired by her mother’s striped stockings – a comforting memory of childhood. The fantastical glass monsters and crazy, blown glass potatoes of Tom Moore are a delight to behold.
The glass blowing hot shop has long held pride of place in the world of art glass. The lively, team-oriented process of blown glass is a spectacle to watch. Witnessing a master glass blower and team is something akin to attending live theater. There is, however, another line of glass making – kiln-formed glass – that is less spectacular process-wise. Nevertheless, the results of kiln-formed glass are every bit as stunning as those of blown glass. It is largely due to the influence of German-born Klaus Moje, long-time head of the glass department of Australian National University (ANU), that Australia has become a center of kiln-formed glass. Kiln forming and glass fusing is glass shaped within an oven-like kiln. Flat panels and combinations of glass are melted in the kiln often in molds.
A fateful meeting took place in 1979 when Moje was at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash. There he chanced to meet Boyce Lundstrom, a partner of the Bullseye Glass Company in Portland. Originally Bullseye was formed to make flat glass for use by stained glass artists, but the facility began to work with Moje to overcome a range of technical difficulties that were existent in various kiln-formed glass methods. Resolution of these technical problems at the Bullseye facility allowed Moje to dramatically expand the color range of kiln-formed glass. The partnership between Portland’s Bullseye Glass Co. and Australian artists working with Moje proved fruitful for the entire world of glass. Many Northwest artists are now working with kiln-formed methods pioneered by Moje and his disciples graduating out of ANU.
The display of Moje’s works in “Links” is delightful. “Untitled (Double Diamond)” is a dazzling platter comprised of a series of squares that are in turn made of diagonal lines of taffy-like colors. There are two examples of vessels like “Orange Vessel” that are the result of collaborations between Moje and Marioni in which kiln-formed and blown glass methods are combined.
“Links” contains a lavish array of kiln-formed and cold worked glass objects (many by Moje’s former students) that tickle the visual funny bone. Scott Chaseling’s giant, illustrated tumblers with their visual puns bring viewers in for a closer look. Steve Klein and Giles Bettison create works with bands and weavings of rich color. Brenden Scott French uses glass to create horizontal panels that are as thick and powerful as a Vincent Van Gogh painting. The mention of these few artists just scratches the surface of all that “Links” has to offer.
Judged by the evidence, Australian artists have managed to build a dynamic and influential community of artists and craftsmen working in the medium of glass.
“Links” runs through January 2014. For further information visit http://www.museumofglass.org.