Color Ignited: TMA commemorates half century of studio glassWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Toledo is now known as the birthplace of the studio glass movement, but participants at a glass workshop 50 years ago had trouble even forming a bubble.
“Nobody knew anything. Literally no one knew how to make a bubble. There was no one there to ask,” recalled 89-year-old Toledo artist Edith Franklin, one of the fewer than 10 people who attended the first of two 1962 glass workshops at Toledo Museum of Art.“The turning point for me, for all of us, was close to the last day of the class, this old man came dressed in a suit and tie and someone started to talk to him. He had worked as a glassblower for Libbey. They said, ‘Would you like to try?’ He took off his coat and his vest, sat down, put his thumb over the hole at the top and there came the bubble. Magic! Here we had been huffing and puffing for a week and then there it was. Simple. With the touch of a thumb.”
The man was Harvey Leafgreen, a glassblower who had worked for the Libbey Glass division at Owens-Illinois for years. Afterward, he worked one-on-one with the workshop participants.
“Color Ignited: Glass 1962–2012,” a new exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic workshops led by Harvey Littleton. The free show, which focuses on the evolution of the use of color in glass, will debut June 14 during the Glass Art Society Conference and run through Sept. 9.
On display will be more than 80 objects from private collections, galleries and other museums as well as TMA’s collection, including work by Littleton, Dominick Labino, Marvin Lipofsky, Dale Chihuly, Dan Dailey, Laura de Santillana, Heinz Mack, Klaus Moje, Yoichi Ohira, Ginny Ruffner and Judith Schaechter.
The exhibit will be the first in the new $3 million Frederic and Mary Wolfe Gallery of Contemporary Art. The space was home to TMA’s glass collection before the Glass Pavilion opened in 2006.
Jutta-Annette Page, TMA’s curator of glass and decorative arts and vice president of the Glass Art Society, called the exhibition “visually enthralling” and said she hopes visitors leave with a better appreciation of Toledo’s role in the evolution of studio glass.
“I very much hope this exhibition will make it clear this very important movement started here in Toledo and also help people realize this is an international movement that is here to stay,” Page said.
Visitors can also view the exhibit from the gallery’s mezzanine level.
“It allows people to look at the works on the ground floor from a different vantage point, which some of the artists are intending on in their works,” Page said.
Several of Franklin’s pieces from the original studio glass workshop will be on display.
“I had them at home for years and nobody looked at them and now they’ve become famous,” Franklin said.
Such early pieces are rare, Page said.
“It’s a very, very small group of surviving objects and the reason for that is they had not really figured out the technological issues that came with this experimentation,” Page said. “Most of the pieces broke.”
The first workshop used glass from melted-down fiberglass marbles made at the Johns Manville plant in Waterville. Learning to add color was part of the experimentation process.
“If you look at these very earliest pieces they were all greenish, transparent glass because the color was entirely determined by the glass batch,” Page said. “Very early on the palette was limited to the prefabricated glass the artists were using, but they very quickly experimented with color.”
Right place, right time
Franklin, a lifelong Toledo resident, was taking a ceramics class at TMA when she heard about the 1962 glass workshop. She was told it was open to university ceramics professors only, but a week before the workshop, she was invited to attend.
“They couldn’t fill the class. There were not enough people signed up from across the country to fill the class,” Franklin said. “I’m a firm believer in luck. Right place, right time and you’re lucky you were the one that happened to be there.”
Franklin never worked with glass again, but has fond memories of that first workshop.
“It wasn’t for me. I did it because I was curious, but I’m too little to lift that heavy pipe with the gather on the end. My God, I couldn’t lift the damn thing. But it was a wonderful experience,” Franklin said. “It’s been exciting these past couple of years. It’s nice it’s getting the recognition it should. Too bad some of the people aren’t alive who would have been enjoying this.”
Admission to the museum, located at 2445 Monroe St., is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.
For more information, visit www.toledomuseum.org.