As a collaborative team, Dean Bensen and Demetra Theofanous create narrative pate de verre wall sculptures utilizing nature as a vehicle to communicate environmental challenges and metaphors for the human experience. Their work connects the viewer with the natural world and instills an appreciation for its interconnectedness to humanity and its inherent fragility.
Says Bensen and Theofanous: “Our decaying leaf installations reflect on our impermanence and vulnerability. What we do has impact – often unforeseen and unmeasured. A pile of leaves hit by a gust of wind is a metaphor for this uncertainty in our future. It expresses that pivotal moment of change, when things we took for granted are suddenly gone. Existing peacefully with others and protecting our natural resources is a tenuous balance, highlighting our interdependence on others and the earth.”
Bensen and Theofanous work both independently and as a collaborative team. Their work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is represented in numerous private and public collections. Recent exhibitions include participating 2018 at the Ming Shangde Glass Museum in China, where they received an award from the Chinese government. Another large-scale leaf installation was on view 2022-‘23 in an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, curated by Brandy Culp.
Attending The College of Idaho, Bensen graduated with a BA in art in 1990. His fascination in glass started a hunger for what he had been missing since his youth, an immersion into the exploration and development of his creative side. Upon receiving his degree, he moved to Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho, where he continued working in glass at a local studio. In 1997, the artist returned to California to pursue glassblowing as a full-time career. Immersing himself in the Bay Area glass scene, Bensen began working for many local artists and teaching at places such as San Jose State University, Palo Alto High School, Corning Glass School, Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI), and Public Glass.
In 2002, Bensen developed a body of work that would become the foundation for his ideas based on the existence of the old growth redwood forest. Using both clear glass and color, he focused initially on environmental concerns. As his concepts evolved, Bensen’s work grew further, investigating the life cycles in nature, their significance, and the interplay between the earth and various species. Each slice of murrine served to highlight one of nature’s footprints, marking the passage of time and a glimpse of history, the rings of life in a felled tree. Bensen has taught extensively, received a scholarship to attend Pilchuck glass school, and his first solo show, Nature’s Footprints, received a full-page review in the San Francisco Chronicle. His work has been widely exhibited, including at the Imagine Museum, San Francisco Airport Museum, San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the Oakland Airport Museum, and the Ming Shangde Glass Museum in China. He has also worked on a team creating several projects for renowned artist Dale Chihuly, including an enormous chandelier in Dubai.
Theofanous was immersed in the arts from a very young age, but this thirst for expression was temporarily diverted when she received her business degree from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. She graduated and spent time working in San Francisco only to realize there was something missing in her work, and she needed to find a way to return to her creative roots. In 2004, Theofanous entered the medium of glass through flameworking and developed a method for weaving with glass that provides a continuing basis for narratives and investigation in her work. She also utilizes the ancient technique of pate de verre, which offers a detailed and painterly approach to casting that is well suited to creating hyper-realistic sculpture inspired by the natural world. Some of her sculptures now combine this cast glass technique with flameworked sculpture.
Theofanous has been internationally recognized for her woven glass nest and flora sculptures, and is included in numerous private collections, as well as in the permanent collection of the Racine Art Museum. Notable awards include: a Juror’s Choice Award from renowned collector Dorothy Saxe, a merit award from Paul Stankard, a NICHE Award, a Juror’s Choice Award at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the Leigh Weimers Emerging Artist Grant, two juror awards from Carol Sauvion, Executive Producer of Craft in America, and an Award of Excellence juried by the Detroit Institute of the Arts in Habatat Gallery’s 50th International Exhibiton . She has exhibited internationally, including at the Triennial of the Silicate Arts in Hungary, San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design, National Liberty Museum, Alexandria Museum of Art, and twice in the Crocker Art Museum’s prestigious Crocker-Kingsley Biennial. As an educator she has taught at top institutions such as Pratt Fine Arts Center and Pittsburgh Glass Center. She serves as Board President of the Glass Alliance of Northern California, was as a Board Member of the Glass Art Society, and is the President of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.
Theofanous and Bensen met in 2004, and their friendship soon evolved into a partnership, both in and outside of the studio. In 2017, during an artist residency at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, they began to merge their sculptural works culminating with an exhibition of woven glass wall tapestries titled Intertwined. Their collaborative work is now represented by some of the country’s finest galleries, has been exhibited at numerous museums, and is in the permanent collection of the Imagine Museum and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation.
Says Theofanous: “Technique merges with narratives in our work, to express metaphorical bridges between nature and human beings. Inspired by the storytelling tradition of woven tapestry and basketry, I see myself as weaving with glass to connect the viewer with the story of the natural world. Through the delicate leaves in each piece, I seek to depict the cycle of life: growth, discovery, change and renewal. I use the fluidity and fragility of glass to express the beauty and vulnerability inherent in the human experience.”
Theofanous and Bensen will have a solo exhibition at Trifecta Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, in fall of 2023.