Amber Cowan’s Horror Vacui
In Amber Cowan’s cornucopia of magical flameworked objects, each individual ornament in concert with its neighbor creates a sculpture so lavish, so elaborate, it exudes the air of a precious Victorian relic. Her visual feast speaks its truth through an abundance of decoration. The fact that the work is made from repurposed glass is only considered after the viewer recovers from the enchantment of excess.
On November 13, 2014, The Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) awarded Cowan its 29th Rakow Commission, a program that provides $25,000 to encourage glass artists to explore new work without concern for financial limits. The award is presented to an artist not yet represented in the museum’s collection and selected by the curator of modern glass, at that time Tina Oldknow. Cowan’s Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct is now part of CMOG’s permanent collection.
Said Oldknow: “Amber takes this ubiquitous commercial glass and gives it a new, cool life, transforming it by destroying it and re-forming it into beautiful and evocatively retro sculptures. For me, Amber was a perfect candidate for the Rakow Commission. I have sometimes picked artists whose work is clearly contemporary, but who also help us understand different aspects of the history of glass. For this purpose, I am not looking for work that replicates earlier styles, but rather work that interprets or contextualizes them in new ways. Amber’s work also addresses contemporary concerns about object making, and I appreciate her fresh take on the potential of what she describes as recycled, up- cycled, and second life glass.”
Cowan’s work is made from found American pressed milk glass, also known as opaque glass, made between the 1940s and the 2000s. The artist collects long forgotten objects such as candy dishes, teacups, and plates from thrift shops, flea markets, and even eBay, and re-forms them into beautiful and evocative sculptures. The discarded glass, which she notes has been “abandoned to the dust bins of American design,” is turned into tiny leaves, fruit, swans, roses, and abstract spirals, bits, and spikes.
A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–based artist, Cowan is also a faculty member of the glass department at Tyler School of Art and Architecture. In 2018, she was selected as Artist Honoree at The Urban Glass Gala, served as resident artist at The Chrysler Museum Glass Studio, and lectured at The Glass Art Society Conference, Murano, Italy. Represented by Heller Gallery, Cowan unveiled new work in a solo exhibition titled Salacia in May 2019.
Currently, Cowan is converting an old deli into a new studio and living space while finishing a new piece to be exhibited with Heller Gallery at Art Miami, December 4 through 9, 2019. A Burke Prize finalist, two of her pieces are on view at The Museum of Arts and Design in NYC through April 2020.