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Silvia Levenson brings the black humor of the survivor into the domestic arena with a wit that tempers what might at first glance be shrugged off as simple, more caustic feminism. Hers is a tango danced by twin outsiders of the Venetian glass community: female artist/ kilcast glass. And to further insult the traditionalists, she concocts her iconoclastic cakes with American glass. – Lani McGregor, director, The Bullseye Connection.
Razor blades embedded in wedding cakes. Knives hanging precariously above recliners. Shoes pierced with nails. Empty chairs. Silvia Levenson does not claim her work is universal, but rather an intimate reflection of her own feelings about childhood, domesticity, travel and exile. Though she lives and works in Italy, her work cannot be defined by the usual Italian glass parameters. There’s nothing shiny or exclusively beautiful about her cast glass; rather, it is raw, emotional and unforgettable.
Levenson is a survivor, a descendant of Russian Jewish fugitives from the 1904 Revolution, herself an exile from Argentine repression. From 1976 to 1984, during the dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, 30,000 people known as “desaparecidos” disappeared in Argentina, including members of Levenson’s own family. People who were identified as terrorists were abducted or murdered outright in their homes or safe houses, at their jobs or high schools. When one of Levenson’s cousins and her aunt were killed, she emigrated to Italy with her husband and two children, Natalia and Emilano. She was only 23 years old at the time.
Coming to art as a painter and graphic artist, in 1987 Levenson read Glass Fusing I and discovered that artists were able to work in glass independently. At this time, she also attended Bertil Vallien’s exhibition of stunning new work in cast glass and was again surprised by the potential of the medium. This attraction and excitement led to her early glass studies at Creative Glass, Switzerland, and Sars Poteries, France. She says: “I was fascinated, not only with the beauty of glass but with the fact that glass is a material used in our daily lives. I do not believe the more complex the material, the better the result. I think that a good piece begins with a good idea. I don’t like virtuosity in art. I love feelings, pathos, intuitions. Being a slave to technique is boring.”
In 1995, Levenson served an artist residency at Bullseye Glass Co., where she created work for her first U.S. exhibition Il Viaggio: Selected Works, held at Bullseye Gallery. In 2004, when she was awarded the Rakow Commission from the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) for her work It’s Raining Knives, the first congratulatory e-mail was from McGregor. Her relationship with the company, which is both personal and professional, continues today.
Through iconic objects such as tea pots and wedding cakes, pink hand grenades and empty chairs, Levenson’s work reflects the fragility and vulnerability of humankind. The sculptures symbolize myriad painful truths including the inability of parents to protect children and the repetition of parents’ mistakes by their offspring. One might believe collectors would shy away from such intense or painful content to focus on the decorative quality of glass, on its beauty. But, when Levenson created her Little Bad Girl dresses made in glass and barbed wire, she sold them all. Levenson explains: “If you look at what is happening in a contemporary art context, my work doesn’t look so aggressive.”
Though the Covid 19 pandemic altered Levenson’s teaching and exhibition schedule, the artist currently offers online workshops, including a sold-out class for Warm Glass UK, and future class for Bullseye in August 2020. She is scheduled to teach August 3 – 8, 2020 at CMOG, https://www.cmog.org/class/shifting-boundaries. Check the websites for updates. The artist is also providing one-on-one online tutoring. Find out more at www.silvialevenson.com.
Fall 2020 exhibitions include Punto sull’arte Gallery, Varese, Italy, September 29 and Argentinean Embassy, Rome, October 29, with Levenson’s daughter, Natalia Saurin. Post pandemic, Levenson will install new work at the Art Applied Museum at Sforzesco Castle, Milan. A travelling exhibition, Missing Identity, addresses her experiences as a survivor of Argentina’s Dirty War. The show has been exhibited at the American University Museum in Washington DC, the Argentine Consulate in Barcelona, the Galerie Argentine in Paris, the Murano Glass Museum in Italy and Bullseye Projects, Portland, Oregon. Recovered Identity, Levenson’s 130-piece collection of glass baby clothes, was acquired in 2018 by the Alexander Tutsek Fondation in Germany. The work will be exhibited some time in 2021.
Ellen Mandelbaum creates environments in stained glass that inspire connection between the viewer and the serenity of the spiritual world. Painting with light not only allowed her to transcend art glass limitations, but offered a broader concept for expanding artistic vision in the medium.
After receiving her MFA in painting in 1963 from Indiana University, Mandelbaum worked for several years as a painter, educator and lecturer before developing an interest in stained glass. In 1975, her studies in leaded glass began in earnest at the now defunct Stained Glass School in North Adamas, Massachusetts. By the mid 1980s, Mandelbaum had studied in workshops with such well-known masters as Ludwig Schaffrath, Johannes Schreiter, Jochem Poengsen, Albinas Elskus, Ray King and Ed Carpenter.
Having learned the basic skills of leaded glass, Mandelbaum found herself wanting more fluid motion and softness in her work. The pathway to breaking free of rigid lead line confines was to paint on the glass, techniques she learned from Elskus, who encouraged her to paint in a more personal way. Becoming a member of the Glass Painting Society, founded by John Nussbaum, introduced her to other glass painters with new ideas and approaches, and pushed the artist to further explore free expression using glass paints.
From the beginning, Mandelbaum’s primary interest was the architectural use of stained glass, though throughout her career she designed and exhibited exquisite autonomous pieces, such as Martinique. She says: “I sat on the edge of a dock, plein air painting like Monet. This piece was painted from life with special glass paint and glass I’d brought from Queens, New York, wrapped in newspaper and nestled in the clothes in my suitcase. Miraculously it made it home unbroken where I could fire it in the traditional way – in my kiln at 1200 degrees.” Bold, often geometric designs appeared in concert with expressive free-hand use of paints, stain or enamels. Mandelbaum made use of clear and light tints to enable what was beyond the stained glass to play a role in her designs. Her aesthetic signature, painted elements interacted with what was occurring in the view beyond.
Exhibited internationally, Mandelbaum’s autonomous panels have been featured in several one-person exhibitions at the Queens College Art Center in Flushing, New York, and in a couple of one-person shows at Gallery35 in Manhattan. A member of the Women’s International Glass Workshop since its inception, in 2016 the artist participated in the group show La Grange Aux Verrieres- Lumiere Visible, in Saint-Hilaire-en-Lignieres, France.
Mandelbaum is internationally recognized for her innovative stained glass commissions including installations for the Queens College Art Center, the Marian Woods Retirement Facility in Hartsdale, New York, and a 30-foot high window for the South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston, South Carolina. Liturgical projects include: Temple Beth Shalom, Annapolis, Maryland, 2014; Kol Shalom Synagogue, Rockville, Maryland, 2012; and Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, Minnetonka, Minnesota, for which she was presented with the 1997 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Religious Art Award.
In 2014, Mandelbaum was accredited as an Artist/Designer by the Stained Glass Association of America (SGAA). Two years later, she was appointed Senior Advisor for the American Glass Guild. Other awards include the Ahavas Sholom Honorable Mention Award for Design Excellence, Newark, New Jersey, 2014, and the Williamsburg Art & Historical Society’s 16th Anniversary Grand Harvest Award for Excellence, 2012.
In 2019, Mandelbaum received the SGAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Education. Her teaching experiences include the instruction of glass painting at the SGAA Stained Glass School, Raytown, Missouri; and in New York at Hunter College, Pace University, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2020, the artist will teach long weekend workshops at her Long Island City Studio. A class including Bruce Buchanan, this year’s James Whitney Scholarship recipient, was rescheduled, hopefully for September 4, 5, 6. Check her website, ellenmandelbaum.com for the latest updates.