Reviewed by Shannon Azzato Stephens
When encountering a blown glass piece, even the novice viewer can’t help but think about process. This is partly because the act of blowing glass seems daunting and intriguing. Looking at a good sketch, one might think, wow, I would never be able to do that— but it’s still easy to imagine a row of charcoal stubs, the artist’s blackened fingertips running over shadows on the page. But when I walked into the Pittsburgh Glass Center’s exhibition 10” x 10” x 10” to find a bouquet of immaculate glass daisies suspended in an orb of solid clear glass, my first thought was “how did they do that?”
I have to admit, my focus on the glassblowing process is clouded by experience: in college, I took classes at the Pittsburgh Glass Center and managed to make a series of wobbly cups. I know just enough about the process to cobble together an idea of how most glass pieces are done, and to feel completely overwhelmed by the skill inherent in the work at 10” x 10” x 10”, the latest show in PGC’s Hodge Gallery.
Running from May 6 – September 17, the show celebrates the 10th anniversary of PGC, a nonprofit center for glass art classes and exhibitions at 5472 Penn Avenue in Friendship. The gallery is open Monday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm, and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10 am – 7 pm. The pieces, which all fit into a 10” by 10” by 10” measurement, represent the work of over 200 glass artists, from Pittsburgh to Tokyo and back. I advise walking very slowly around the long, narrow room. I missed a number of amazing details on my first sweep of the gallery: a globe the size of my thumbnail, a two-headed bird caught in a clear oval cup, a photograph mounted on the wall of a vase being blown.
When I was taking glassblowing classes, I thought the most beautiful artwork created in PGC’s ample studio space was the fleeting moments of molten glass in process. To be malleable enough for blowing, the glass is kept in a 2000-degree Fahrenheit furnace; glassblowers approach it for mere seconds at a time, gathering orbs of blindingly bright white glass onto the end of a “punti”, a long steel bar. This is done as quickly as possible, because even standing near the furnace for too long can burn the skin on your arms. The glass immediately begins to cool as soon as it is removed from the furnace, and glows a rich honey color —a match for its viscous, drippy consistency— during the process of blowing.
Molten glass moves quickly, gracefully, almost viciously under a glassblower’s tools: its color is bold, its form otherworldly. Though many pieces that demonstrate the artist’s intricate skill emerge from the studio looking very still and very finished, I prefer those that reflect the motion of glass while it’s still in process. My favorite piece at 10” x 10” x 10”, Tim Drier’s “Flow”, maintains this sense of motion while still looking “finished” (ie, it is nothing like the slumped, bubbly cups I crafted in my beginner classes).
Featuring a woman suspended in a clear ring, her back bent backwards in some kind of danceful rapture, the piece bears an impressive attention to detail while maintaining a sense of fluid motion. It seems as if the figure is about to uncurl her 6” body and step lightly onto the ledge where Drier’s piece has been set. She will move, not with the prescribed stiffness of a person, all bones and trepidation, but with the flow inherent in molten glass. She will glide, her shadows curving over the edges of wine glasses, sculptural flowers, and etchings of dark faces. She will get lost in the studio where she was born.