Loretta H. Yang and Chang Yi, founders and artists of LIULI Crystal Art, devoted their life to the art of LIULI for three decades. In the process, they revived the ancient Chinese technique of pâte de verre lost wax casting and instigated the contemporary glass art movement in Asia. Richly imbued with traditional Chinese artistic vocabulary and philosophical thinking, Yang’s works have been acquired by more than 22 museums for their permanent collections including Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Palace Museum in Beijing, New York Museum of Arts and Design, The Corning Museum of Glass, and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. She has created work for the Oscars, Grammys and 32 world leaders.
“Beauty transformed” is how Japanese critics have described Yang’s multiple talents. Named Best Leading Actress in the 21st and 22nd Golden Horse Film Awards ceremony, she was the first actress who won this award two years in a row. In 1987, Yang left the film industry along with her late husband, film director Chang Yi, and several other people from the film industry to establish the glass workshop and studio LIULI Crystal Art near Taipei, Taiwan. The industrious group invested their resources in rehabilitating a dilapidated factory and learned the techniques and process of glass casting in the French manner, similar to the luxury glass made by Lalique and Daum. Yang single-handedly rediscovered the techniques of pâte de verre glass casting and uses this technique to create works with a traditional Chinese artistic flare.
When asked, “What has it been like being a woman in the glass arts industry all these years,” Yang responded: “Honestly, I haven’t given this topic much thought. Don’t exceptional women exist in all industries? Chang Yi believed that women were the stronger gender and possess a resilience men don’t. He would use the saying ‘will of steel, gentle heart’ to describe women, because he observed that we lead with a gentleness of heart and an unwavering will. Maybe I’ve been lucky to work with Chang Yi all this time because despite what other people said, we took it with a grain of salt and continued to live according to our own set of rules. We complemented each other. He was responsible for the development, planning and operational aspects of the company. And because of this, he was able to steer our team in the right direction and instill an equitable value system.”
She continues: “I, on the other hand, have more patience and lean more toward innovation. I enjoy researching techniques – LIULI Crystal Art’s 12-step technique is a product of my work. Yes, the process was challenging, but what would we be without it? LIULI Crystal Art faced a lot of challenges in our 36 years. The sheer will to complete a project was our greatest encouragement and got us through them. Chang Yi used to good-naturedly admonish that I was the type of person who doesn’t know when to quit. But really, I’m the type of person who immerses themselves in something and will continue searching for an answer until I find it. Value and strength are creations of our own design. I refuse to put myself in a box or limit myself in any way. Women can be just as bold as men, men can be just as resilient as women.”
Today, LIULI Crystal Art owns factories on Taiwan (Tamshui) and in Shanghai, and numerous galleries on Taiwan and in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and United States. The group decided to use the Chinese word LIULI as opposed to more common names for glass in the Chinese language. It is commonly believed that the word LIULI first appeared during the Western Zhou Dynasty (about 1045-771 BCE), which referred to the glass being produced at the time. For Yang especially, using the term LIULI greatly references her own body of work, which draws upon traditional Chinese motifs and such Buddhist teachings as enlightenment and transparency, evoking an almost meditative practice and devotional purpose. Each piece undergoes a comprehensive 12-step process and requires six to eight months to complete.
Known for her floral sculptures, in 2006 Yang removed all traces of color from her work. This pure, transparent series debuted at Leo Kaplan Modern in New York in 2007 with Proof of Awareness, an oversized and colorless blooming peony, garnering widespread acclaim. To Yang, the oversized flowers of Proof of Awareness represented her life reflections and the next stage of her creative journey.
Says Yang: “LIULI petals, when looked at individually, hold little significance. But when clustered together, these petals manifest a symbiotic relationship to create a single large and flawless flower. A harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship does not focus on the self but on the greater good of everyone involved.”
Combining pâte de verre with hot casting, Yang uses multiple castings to create the abstract form of Buddha. Because life is impermanent, LIULI is the perfect material to capture its wavering illusory and tangible qualities. Yang explored the Buddhist philosophy of enlightenment and non-attachment in her exhibition Diamond Sutra held at the Grand Palais in 2015. The Ateliers d’Art de France commented: “The collection exudes a meditative philosophy that captures the Parisian way of life yet is an uncommon component in contemporary French art.”
In 1996, when Yang and Chan Yi visited the Buddhist grottoes near the desert oasis of Dunhuang in western China, the moment they saw the Thousand-armed, Thousand-eyed Guanyin fresco in Cave 3 at Mogao, painted during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) and slowly disappearing under the relentless weathering of the desert sandstorms, Yang vowed to recreate the image in glass as a way of handing down to future generations the wisdom and compassion it has accumulated over the centuries. On the reverse side is engraved the Great Compassion Dharani, a popular incantation in Chinese Buddhism. The unique transparent nimbus represents the wisdom and compassion of Guanyin illuminating the world. The image exudes an air of boundless compassion, quelling the anxiety of a troubled heart. Though Yang has completed a 200cm version, her deepest wish is to complete a LIULI-made Thousand-armed, Thousand-eyed Guanyin that measures14.7 feet tall!
In order to “continuously create art for the good of the heart,” Chang wrote a dedicated poem for each artwork. It took great determination and faith to accumulate such a compelling body of work. He viewed LIULI as a communicator of life and death, and as the state between illusion and reality, light and shadow. Even though life was illusory, a dream and ephemeral like bubbles, there was always an unwavering touch of red in the heart urging all to never give up life and never give up hope.
Says Yang: “Although it’s been more than three decades, we know there’s a lot more to achieve. And the only way to do so is to continuously practice what we believe in. The mission of LIULI has always been more than LIULI. It is the society, the culture, and the human beings.
Pacific Northwest glass artists Kelly O’Dell and Raven Skyriver, who create sculptures inspired by marine life, species endangerment, extinction, and conservation, will exhibit their work at Habatat Galleries during next week’s Glass Art Society conference in Detroit, Michigan. Titled Confluence, the show is a tour de force of works created in homage to the natural world and to raise consciousness in viewers about the need for preservation of natural spaces and species.
On June 5, during Habatat’s first ever VIP Artist Gala, Skyriver will present a glassblowing demo at the brand-new Axiom glassblowing facility, followed by artist talks given by Skyriver and O’Dell. On June 7, VIPs travel to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation to view its important glass art collection and experience a rare opportunity to see the culmination of O’Dell’s residency there via work she created onsite at Greenfield Village.
In 2018, Skyriver and O’Dell launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowd-fund building their own studio on Lopez Island, Washington. They wrote: “We’re now asking you for assistance to build our own glass studio where we can deepen our practice, give back to our community, and nurture our family… This project came from a vital need: to have more time together (AND about 10,000 fewer miles traveled on the freeway every year). We are moving to the island where Raven was born and raised to allow our son to grow up surrounded by his grandparents and extended family, but the island has no glass studio available for our use. So, we’re building one, from the ground up, with the support of our friends and family.”
Aside from creating their own work there, Skyriver and O’Dell’s studio represents a place of education and community where visiting artists can be invited for residencies, short-term apprenticeships can be offered, and small teaching workshops can be hosted. They wrote: “This hotshop will allow us to pass on the knowledge that was so generously taught to us by our creative masters, and give back to our glass community.” Though they surpassed their initial Kickstarter goal, the studio remains a work in progress, evolving physically as well as philosophically.
Born in 1982, Raven Skyriver (Tlingit) was raised in the San Juan Islands. Growing up connected to the land and its surrounding waters, and living in a creative household where carvers came to learn Northwest Coast style carving and design, helped push him towards an artistic path. At the age of 16, he was introduced to glass by family friend and mentor Lark Dalton and was immediately captivated by the medium. Exploring every opportunity to work in glass led Skyriver to being invited to work with Karen Willenbrink-Johnsen for the William Morris team in 2003. This was his introduction to sculptural glass and how building a vocabulary for narrative in his own work began. In 2018, the artist returned to Lopez Island where he was born, and he and wife O’Dell constructed a home studio where they can create their glass art.
Says Skyriver: “I was raised near the sea and in a family that valued and practiced artistic pursuits from as young as I can remember. Some of my most vivid memories as a child were smelling the fresh cedar chips that were being removed by master carvers’ blades as they sculpted beautifully elegant forms. The most excitement I have experienced in my life was the first salmon I ever landed, the time I saw a Sea Lion a paddle’s length from my boat, and seeing a humpback whale feeding on smelt. When I was introduced to glass as a junior in high school, I was immediately captivated by the mesmerizing, alchemic, fluid nature of the material. From that day forward I have dedicated myself to honing my craft and perfecting my technique.”
Skyriver continues his artistic practice utilizing close observation of his sculptural subjects to create an ongoing personal dialogue. This inner conversation touches on the celebration of biodiversity, his understanding of his heritage, the importance of Native species, the gifts those beings bring to their communities, and the delicate balance that sustains our collective existence.
He states: “I draw from my experiences as a child and my continued fascination with the natural world to inform the work I make today. My goal is to capture the fluidity of an animal in motion, using the liquid glass to portray a dynamic moment in time. I attempt to imbue the subject with a hint of life and capture the essence of the creatures I depict. I want my work to speak to the viewer’s own understanding of the wild and their place in it, and to instill a sense of the delicate balance that is our existence.”
Born in Seattle, Washington, in 1973, O’Dell was raised by glass artists in Kealakekue, Hawaii, where her father built himself a hot glass studio at their home. In 1999 she graduated from the University of Hawaii (UH), Manoa, earning a BFA in Studio Art with a focus in glass, which she studied under Rick Mills. The UH program afforded many opportunities to study glass at Pilchuck Glass School, where she eventually relocated and became a member of the William Morris winter crew from 2003 to 2007.
Says O’Dell: “My upbringing happened in the Hawaiian Islands. I grew up on the Big Island, home of active volcanoes. Coming from a place so diverse in culture and climate, teeming with flora, fauna, and really great food, I noticed the difference as soon as I left it at 25. That difference made me feel the responsibility to honor what is lost, or extinct, not just with plants and animals, but with culture and climate, too. It is fascinating and devastating that our existence has so much impact on the delicate balance of life, our own species included. Through sculpture, my work explores themes of Memento Mori as well as extinction, preservation, and origin. The Ammonite, an intelligent coiled-up cephalopod, became extinct 65 Million years ago, leaving impressions in its habitat to fossilize. We learn from the past to be responsible in our future. I hope my artwork could serve as a reminder or Memento of this.”
O’Dell’s recent exhibitions include Fired Up: Glass Today, The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, 2022; Chinese Whispers, curated by Erin Dickson, Glazenhuis, Lommel, Belgium 2022, and Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, Denmark, 2019-20; Glass Lifeforms 2021, The Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA; and Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest, Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, WA, 2021. This year, the artist will serve a glass residency at The Henry Ford Museum, MI, and received The Myrna Palley Collaborators Award, University of Miami, FL. She and Skyriver will be instructors at Penland School of Craft, Bakersville, NC in July 2023.
In her creative process, O’Dell is often inspired by a non-fiction book, a curious detail in nature, or a podcast about science or spirituality. That leads to research, and most ideas make it to her sketchbook. States O’Dell: “I’ll return to those ideas later, after they’ve passed the test of some time. I need to be sure before I start a fresh project that I will be challenged with a new sort of problem-solving, which I really love most about making artwork. The process of glassmaking is hot, fluid, demanding, and not without help! In the glass shop, my favorite part about making artwork is working with friends. Glass is special in that it usually requires skilled teamwork, and we all sort of know the same language in the shop. Working with a team, it is possible to accomplish some pretty crazy challenges. While we help each other make artwork, we push each other and the limits of what glass can do. We cross paths regularly, and so we become community. We raise each other’s kids, we bbq together, we camp at the beach, we travel to faraway places together, and we gravitate to one another in socially awkward situations. I feel very lucky to be part of this vibrant community.”