Drawing on the rich traditions of glass blowing, fearless experimentation, and a fascination with glass as both a visual and experiential encounter, Katherine Gray creates work that ranges from blown glass sculptures to assembled installations of found glass. A visitor favorite at The Corning Museum of Glass is her Forest Glass, a large-scale installation comprised of found glass arranged to create the illusion of trees. Whether celebrating a prosaic material through installations or her Iridescent Entities, stylized hearths and campfires, or clouds and orbs, Gray forces us to appreciate glass anew.
She says: “I use a material that we don’t generally see. It is often flawlessly clear and colorless, hence invisible in that regard, but it can also be so ubiquitous and banal that it does not register in our psyches either. It is a material that allows us unparalleled connectivity (via smart phones and fibre optics) yet also serves to separate us. To my mind, these two polarities are what set this material apart from so many others, and one of the reasons that I feel compelled to keep working with it as an artistic medium. It is both present and absent, known and unknown, and vacillating between a state of mundane familiarity and otherworldly perfection.”
In Heller Gallery’s 2020 exhibition, Radiant Mirage, Gray turned her considerable glass-making skills to creating objects that served two purposes: to bring beauty into a dire moment in the world, and to express her frustration over the loss of our collective sense of security and well-being. The common thread was her use of iridescence, an optical phenomenon seen in nature and inspired by unearthed ancient glass. Like natural phenomena that are caused by the refraction of light, Gray’s Entities and Tubes emphasized the elusiveness and shiftiness of iridized objects and projected an ephemeral shape and play of color our eye does not fully grasp.
Educated at the Ontario College of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design, Gray serves as the Resident Evaluator on Seasons 1 and 2 of Netflix’s reality TV show Blown Away. Her works are held in the permanent collections of public institutions including the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH; Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY; Museum of American Glass, Wheaton, NJ; the Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA; New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM; and Toyama City Institute of Glass Art, Toyama, Japan. Reviewed in the New York Observer, Artforum, and the Los Angeles Times, Gray has been nominated for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, and has garnered many accolades including the Award of Merit from the Bellevue Art Museum in Washington.
In addition to making work, Gray has written about glass, curated and juried multiple exhibitions, and has taught workshops around the world. In 2017, she received the Libenský/Brychtová Award from the Pilchuck Glass School for her artistic and educational contributions to the field. She was also honored as a Fellow of the American Craft Council (ACC), a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing American craft. To be named a fellow, an artist must demonstrate leadership in the field, outstanding ability as an artist and/or teacher, and 25 years or more of professional achievement as an American craftsperson. Currently, Gray lives in Los Angeles where she is a professor of art at California State University, San Bernardino.
To Gray, glass is a material of both otherworldly perfection and mundane familiarity. She says: “I’m trying to play off of polarities between usage of material and the sphere it exists in, who makes it, who uses it, who values it, and trying to point out some of the inequalities.”
Patience, love of color and an observing mind are the key ingredients of Ruth Shelley’s successful kilnformed glass art. For over 25 years, she has been exploring the flow of glass when heated and the reflection and refraction of light as it hits her glass objects. Dropped vessels create an interplay of light, form and color evocative of the natural-world characteristics experienced on the West Coast of Wales.
Camping in her van in Aberystwyth on Cardigan Bay, Shelley watched an impending storm develop. Its transitioning colors inspired the artist’s Stormy Seas collection. Cardigan Bay, an endless inspiration with its craggy cliffs, wide estuaries silted up with spits and bars, and the occasional island also impacted the artist’s Into the Deep series, which reflects the changing weather patterns and light experienced there on the coastal profile of Wales. A series was born from and named after a connection to Mwnt Beach, where the artist feels most at home and inextricably connected to the earth. Even during Covid lockdown, Roath Park in her hometown of Cardiff influenced Shelley’s Winter Lockdown Walk with its chromatic foliage.
Although coming from a background of textiles, Shelley has attended many masterclasses including those at North Lands Creative Glass, UK, and Bullseye Resource Center, Portland, Oregon, which enabled the realization of her ideas in kilnformed glass. She was presented with the Glass Sellers Award at the British Glass Biennale 2015 and won the People’s Prize from the Contemporary Glass Society in 2017. The recipient of many Welsh Arts Council awards, Shelley is a member of the Contemporary Glass Society and the Makers Guild of Wales. Her work can be seen in many UK galleries including London Glassblowing, Contemporary Applied Art and Albany Gallery in Cardiff, May 6 – 29, 2021 with Maggie Brown.
To find out more about Ruth Shelley’s work: https://vimeo.com/160445687
Daniel Maher’s work serves as a testament to both his diverse aesthetic interests and his firm roots in the traditions of the stained glass craft. A former employee of Boston-based Connick Studio, in 1989 the artist established Daniel Maher Stained Glass in Somerville, Massachusetts, to further explore a variety of design styles. With the goal of accelerating his evolution as an artist and extinguishing the notion of stained glass as an exclusively traditional art form, Maher made it his mission to explore the textural movement inherent in glass.
In 2007, a reduction in the number of restoration jobs coincided with the exodus of a few of Maher’s key employees, and thus he began to wind down his studio’s restoration commissions. Currently, residential commissions comprise 75 percent of his studio’s new work with the remaining 25 percent commercial or corporate projects.
Driven by a goal to introduce prismatic effects into stained glass windows, Maher created his first found objects windows more than 30 years ago in a series called Housewares Graveyard Windows. These colorful, textural panels showcased glass that had been rescued from its ordinary life as serving bowls, platters, goblets, lids, jars, and general household utilitarian objects and made the star of his stained glass symphony.
Over time Maher’s palette expanded, providing fuel for myriad thematic ideas. Some panels centered around old alcoholic beverage bottles, some antique medicine jars, but each created a unique look. One of Maher’s found object windows was featured in Martha Stewart Living’s December 2012 issue. His work, Pig with Corn, was made from a number of glass corncob buttering dishes that Maher silver stained and placed in circumference around the bottom of a giant pig’s foot jar, imprinted with the words “this little pig went to market.” This panel was exhibited at the American Glass Guild Conference in Buffalo, New York, July 2009.
Since 2010, Maher has been incorporating one of the most beautiful glass objects into his stained glass windows. Because none of the commercially available roundels captured the magic he was looking for, Maher decided to learn how to make his own and enrolled in a glassblowing course taught by Jesse Rasid at North Cambridge Glass School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Learning to make roundels resulted in an awakening of creative ideas and a move of Maher’s studio to Cambridge.
Maher’s largest roundel commission was created for the Alfond Inn owned by Barbara and Ted Alfond, Boston, Massachusetts, and Winter Park, Florida. The couple became aware of the artist’s artwork via his lectures at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Because Orlando, Florida, is the home to the Morse Museum of Tiffany Glass, the Alfonds wanted a piece for their inn that would speak to the beauty of the ponds, lakes, and gardens of their city while referencing Tiffany’s legacy in a unique way.
In yet another approach to enhancing the aesthetic and content of stained glass, Maher’s Portrait Windows celebrate specific people and events through their inclusion of photographic imagery. Using a photo-sensitive film, Maher creates a transparency onto which he places the photo sensitive film and exposes it to ultraviolet light. Whether painted and fired in the kiln, etched or sandblasted, the images become a permanent part of the glass and are constructed in the vivid colors unique to stained glass. Photo imaging allows subjects to be rendered that would otherwise be impossible to create by hand painting, traditional sandblasting or acid etching.
A combination of glass painting and the photo imaging process can be seen in Maher’s three-lancet Harvard Lampoon Castle window, a collaboration with designer by Michael Frith. Frith was the art designer for the Muppets and Sesame Street, and Dr. Seuss’s book editor and close personal friend. All imagery references the history of The Lampoon, an undergraduate humor publication founded in 1876 by seven undergraduates at Harvard University i n Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its secret lingo. In the lead and copperfoil combo window, each of three lancets measures 2 by 5 feet and includes 450 to 600 pieces. “The project was a whirlwind with late changes and groundbreaking techniques, but one of the most rewarding projects I have done in my years of stained glass.”
Inspired by the notion of the sun entering prismatic glasses, Maher’s Suntrackers split sunbeams into long bands of color, rainbows, or arcs of light. Optically clear colored glass and prismatic objects combine to create patterns that change through the course of the day or season. A secondary image is created when the sun casts light onto the floor or wall after passing through the glass. Works that include prisms project a tertiary image of overlapping rainbows.
After dedicating 49 years to exploring the possibilities of glass, Maher looks back at his pivotal beginnings, when he invited local architects, designers, and artists to a brainstorming session prior to opening his studio. Out of that meeting, he learned to ask himself the question: Is your work something new and different? Is it unique to your studio? – reinforcing the idea that not only can one produce something new and different in the traditional art form of stained glass, but one should. “The greatest compliment I’ve received,” says Maher “is, ‘I’ve never seen windows like yours before.’”
Sculpting and blowing molten glass, Elliot Walker creates still life sculpture inspired by the paintings of Dutch masters. Though exquisite to look at, it was the combination of refined glassblowing skill with the humor and satire of his work that resulted in Walker winning the Netflix series, Blown Away 2. For the moment, prized residencies at both the Corning Museum of Glass and the Pittsburgh Glass Center are on hold due to Covid. But the artist works feverishly on new commissioned works, facilitates a number of creations for several noted designers and artists, and carries out his new duties as champion of marblemedia’s glassblowing competition show.
For Walker, getting to know his fellow contestants on Blown Away 2 and watching them work made his participation on the show worthwhile. “It showed me how welcoming and inspiring the global fraternity of furnace glass workers is.”
Messums, London, hosted Walker’s inaugural solo show from January 28 through February13, 2021. Plenty, an irreverent look at the culture of excess, presented a new series of sculpture inspired by 17th– century Dutch Vanitas paintings. Employing almost every conceivable technique, the artist transformed classic still life painting objects into ethereal, sculptural cameos that speak both of bounty and its impermanence. Walker’s remarkable technical skills include complex and subtle coloring applications, along with cold processes like cutting and polishing, surface decoration and texturing, adding depth and dazzling intricacy to his forms.
A show statement from Messums Fine Art Ltd, read: “Elliot is an exciting and talented artist bringing a conceptual edge to a traditional craft with all the hallmarks of a mould breaker…We have been watching the seam between craft and art break over the years, and Elliot’s work irreverently celebrates glass working whilst engaging with our contemporary concerns and pleasures.”
Growing up in Wolverhampton, England, an academic at school, Walker took his A-Levels in science, chemistry and biology. As a boy, he describes himself, as ‘out-doorsy,’ always creating and making things, mostly with pebbles and sticks, inspired by British sculptor and environmentalist, Andy Goldsworthy. He never thought of being an artist when he was a kid because it wasn’t “sensible.”
With a BA in psychology from Bangor University in North Wales, Walker discovered glass at university, taking night classes in stained glass windows. Following his MA in applied arts from Wolverhampton University, the artist established a studio in Camden. He now lives and works in Hertfordshire with his life partner, colleague and fellow glassblower Bethany Wood. She is the owner of the Blowfish art gallery, currently selling Walker’s works online.
Touted as one of the United Kingdom’s finest rising glass stars, Walker has become one of the most active and inspiring artists of his generation. He developed his basic skills and necessary foundations as a creator by studying glass-making in the Stourbridge Glass Quarter, an historic place that has been associated with the glass industry for more than 400 years. He worked for glassblowing legend Peter Layton for about eight years as a part of his London studio team. The artist is also part of a group called Bandits of Glass, where the process of creation is given more importance than the final piece itself.
Says Walker: “I am a dedicated experimenter with my chosen material and am constantly trying to challenge myself and the audiences of my work to abandon many preconceptions of the material.”