I am writing this from the US where I am travelling around meeting artists and seeing galleries and artwork. This is my first visit to America and I am very grateful to Wales Arts International for funding the trip. My first port of call was St. Augustine in Florida where I was giving a paper and a workshop related to the Conwy Castle Commission I completed last year with Rachel Phillips to the American Glass Guild Conference. Both the workshop and the talk were very well received. Many people told me they felt inspired and excited by our work. Quite a few artists expressed an interest in coming to Wales to visit.
The conference gave me the chance to get to know delegates and speakers from all over the US. In particular I was inspired by the work of Jean-Jacques Duval, Sasha Zhitneva, Joseph Cavalieri, Ken Leap and Linda Lichtman, all of whom have invited me to visit their studios and some of whom are interested in discussing future collaborations. I met many fantastic stained glass artists like Mary Clerkin Higgins who has invited me to her studio in New York next week where I will get to see a 13th Century panel from Canterbury Cathedral which she is restoring! The conference was a fantastic opportunity to find out what is going on in glass painting across the US, and I have formed some friendships which I am sure will blossom.
The Conference was held in St Augustine, Florida. St Augustine boasts the oldest western habitation in the entire US and so is a magnet for tourists on the heritage trail. This in turn begets some fabulous kitsch, which was inspiring in its own way.
I learned a lot by looking at the glass on show in St Augustine, visiting the churches and museums and by talking to other artists.
After the conference we went to the Morse Museum which houses a fantastic collection of work by the late 19th Century designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany. I was amazed by the Tiffany work, his approach to stained glass and painting was very different to anything I have seen before. He layered up the colours and used cast and facetted jewels in the work, making panels where the thickness of glass varied considerably and fine modulation of light and subtle variations of colour resulted in stunning visual effects. The means of production was pretty interesting as well, he employed 1000’s of people, all his designers were women and a condition of employment was that they were not allowed to marry. The glass makers were men, who, of course had no such restrictions!!
I am now in Corning at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York State. This is a fabulous collection of glass from ancient Egyptian to modern day and I am revelling in the opportunity to dip my toe into the collection. So far I have spent a day drawing in the ancient glass gallery and meeting with the artists in residence, Scott Benefield and Charlie Stern. Scott and Charlie are both here for a month and are each working on their own project. Charlie is inspired by fragments of glass in the Corning collection and is researching ways of using 3d printing to create ceramic moulds which can be used to create blown forms.
Scott is inspired by the use of cane, murrine and traditional Venetian decorative techniques used in glass blowing and is researching a book about the application of these techniques in contemporary applied art. Having stripped away colour, he is concentrating on blowing forms with intricate white cane work and I had the opportunity to watch him at work yesterday. I love the way he uses this complex traditional technique to make a simple contemporary form…the transformative quality of glass blowing and its immediacy is endlessly fascinating.