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The Studio Glass Movement

The Studio Glass Movement

Harvey Littleton at the Toledo Workshop, June 1962

The Beginning of the Studio Movement

During the 1950s, studio ceramics and other craft media in the U.S. began to gain in popularity and importance, and American artists interested in glass looked for new paths outside industry. The catalyst for the development of studio glass in the United States was Harvey K. Littleton, a teaching ceramist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who became inspired by the pioneering work in ceramics of the California potter Peter Voulkos. Informed by his own background in the material, Littleton started experimenting with hot glass in his studio in 1958. He eventually realized that his desire to develop studio glassblowing in America could become a reality after encountering the small, historic glasshouses of Italy and experiencing limited success with his own glassblowing experiments.

Harvey Littleton and the Toledo Workshops

Dominick Labino working

Littleton joined forces with the Toledo Museum of Art, the site of the "birth" of the American Studio Glass movement during two historic glassblowing workshops in March and June of 1962. He worked with glass research scientist Dominick Labino, who successfully devised a small, inexpensive furnace in which glass could be melted and worked, making it affordable and possible for the first time for artists to blow glass in independent studios.

Littleton subsequently started a glass program in the ceramics department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Some of his early students were Dale Chihuly, Marvin Lipofsky, and Fritz Dreisbach, all artists who have played seminal roles in raising the awareness of studio glass around the world.

Littleton's Students Define a Glass Movement

Some of Littleton's students, like Chihuly and Lipofsky, successfully took glassblowing in experimental and innovative directions. Focusing on the execution of artistic ideas in glass, they searched for ways to subvert the traditional associations between glass and functionality by exploring sculptural forms.

Most artists, however, were hampered by their lack of technical knowledge. Free-form, expressionistic, and technically very limited, early studio glassblowing attempts were little more than artful blobs, or as studio glass pioneer Richard Marquis called them, "dip n’ drip weed bottles." To create something truly original, knowledge of how to work the material had to be obtained. American studio glass artists gradually shifted their attention to technique in the late 1960s, looking for guidance to Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and especially to Italy, countries famous for their glassworking expertise.

Studio Glass Spreads

Originally an American phenomenon, the Studio Glass movement spread quickly to Europe and the United Kingdom, Australia, and more recently, Asia. The studio movement differs from other 20th-century art glass movements in its emphasis on the artist as designer and maker, its focus on the making of one-of-a-kind objects, and its international character. It also is distinguished by the sharing of technical knowledge and ideas among artists and designers that, in industry, would not be possible.

"Decades in Glass: The '60s" will feature more than 50 pieces from the Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition will include examples of European design and objects by American designer-craftsmen in addition to glass by the new generation of American and European studio artists. A comparison of this widely-varied production ranges from sleek modern designs to expressive and eccentric objects. The show is curated by the Museum’s curator of modern glass, Tina Oldknow.