The “LIFE ART LIFE William Bernstein” exhibition opens August 6 and runs through October 9, 2022, at the Toe River Arts’ Kokol Gallery, Spruce Pine, North Carolina. This 50-year retrospective of the blown glass work and paintings of William Bernstein showcases the work of an artist who has been at the forefront of the North Carolina studio glass movement for over 50 years. It creates a visual summary of the separate elements of Bernstein’s art over time – his motives, goals, and achievements, while showing his ability to work simultaneously in diverse mediums.
Curated by Bernstein, the artist was assisted by Jordan Ahlers from Momentum Gallery, Asheville, North Carolina. He and Billy selected approximately 40 sculptural works and 20 wall pieces that span his career. The artist’s unique style of incorporating images on glass is mirrored stylistically in his two-dimensional paintings. So much of his work and family life are evident in his art forms – portraits of the people, pets, and environs that surround him.
Both an online and printed catalog will be available that will include narratives about Bernstein’s lifetime of art written by Bill Warmus, former curator at Corning Museum of Glass, and will include images from the show. Writes Warmus: “Bernstein is a minimalist whose style is based upon the dedication to the concepts of honesty, modesty, and humility. It has a feel of its surroundings and of the people of the region.”
Graduating in 1968 from the Philadelphia College of Arts and just married, Bernstein moved to Penland School of Crafts to be their second glass resident artist from 1968 to 1970. He was a co-founder of the Glass Arts Society (GAS) – together with glass pioneers Mark Peiser and Fritz Dreisbach – that formed to bring together the glass community so people could work together and learn from each other. Receiving numerous awards, fellowships and grants, he has exhibited internationally and has artwork in many private and public collections. Bernstein has lived most of his professional life in the rural Celo community, a land trust in rural Yancey, North Carolina, along with his family and artist wife, Katherine Bernstein.
Katherine and William both grew up in New Jersey and met while attending art school at Philadelphia College of Arts. In the early years, Katie worked in hand-built porcelain and Billy, very influenced by Scandinavian and colonial American glass design, started producing a variable line of goblets and sculptural pieces.
In the mid 1970s, glass master and educator Harvey Littleton moved to the area and quickly took an interest in the young artists’ work. He insisted that Katie’s sculpture in clay would translate beautifully into glass. To make his point, he took several of Katie’s clay originals back to his studio and cast them in crystal. The results were wonderful, and Katie started working exclusively in glass.
By the ‘80s, both Bernsteins had established themselves as major forces in the glass world, but to keep their studio running they needed a steady flow of sales, which eventually brought them together in the creation of a line of goblets and tableware. Katie supplied the imagery with melted glass color rods, and Billy formed the result into a vessel. This combination proved very popular and received wide recognition in design journals and magazines. They continue to produce these pieces today under the name Bernstein Glass.
Currently, both Billy and Katie produce individual pieces for gallery shows and collaborate with two assistants on the functional work. Their oldest son Josh is a physician, and their son Alex is a respected glass artist; both live in Asheville, North Carolina. Katie and Billy remain content in their log cabin with their huge dog Murphy.
Says Billy: “This has not only been a year-long process of curating pieces for an exhibit, but a lifetime of making art that connects with all things about one’s life.”
Coinciding with the United Nations’ Year 2022 as the Year of Glass and the 60th Anniversary of the Studio Glass Movement, the “LIFE ART LIFE William Bernstein” exhibition has been made possible by Toe River Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Cary Art Center, Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, the Blumenthal Foundation, and Mountain Electronics in Micaville, North Carolina.
Billy’s Digital Sketchbook: https://www.billysdigitalsketchbook.net/