Friday, October 19, 2012

Designer of the Month: Harvey Littleton

Week 3: The Toledo Workshops

Harvey K. Littleton, Vase, 1965. Fiberglas marbles, #475 glass; blown, silver oxide decoration. Courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass.

In 1962, thanks to the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, Harvey Littleton was finally afforded the opportunity to teach a series of workshops in glass making, thus allowing him the chance to put this own experiments in setting up a glass studio to the test. "The excitement of that made [the studio glass movement] possible," explains Littleton. "It was the museum getting involved in the future instead of the past."[1] So, what does one teach during the first ever seminar-workshops in glassblowing? The ambitious list of topics and activities to be covered in the first workshop, scheduled for Friday, March 23 - Sunday, April 1st, during the University of Wisconsin's spring break, included kiln construction, glass composition and its physical properties, melting and melting schedules, the museum's glass collection, working techniques and practice, a tour of an industrial glass plant, finishing techniques, casting experiments, and lampworking.[2] And as no class of this kind had ever been taught before, the pottery instructor at the museum school, Norm Schulman, and the vice president for research and development at Johns-Manville, Dominick Labino, were assigned to help make arrangements for the workshop to take place, including equipping the garage on the museum grounds where the glass studio was to be built.[3]

Glass artist Dominick Labino at the 1962 Toledo Workshops. Courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass.

The entire workshop was a series of experiments in melting and working with glass. Of the initial batch of glass the group melted, Tom McGlauchlin, one of Littleton's former studio assistants, wrote of the first few days that they "tried some mold work, some blowing, and some casting, but didn't really succeed at anything although we are learning a lot and we might be able to do something tomorrow."[4] In fact, as the workshop progressed, the group did improve, with their often 13-hour days paying off handsomely.[5] While relatively few pieces created during the workshop survived due to annealing problems, the processes required to slowly cool the glass to relieve stresses, it was considered a resounding success by all involved.[6] The museum announced its plans for a follow-up class in June of the same year, with the second session, led by Littleton from June 18-30 as an "advanced seminar-workship exploring the possibilities of molten glass as an expressive tool for the craftsman."[7] Littleton was ready to experiment with the artistic possibilities of glass.

(Front, left to right) Rosemary Gulassa, Harvey Leafgreen, June Wilson, Robert Florian, Harvey Littleton; (back) John Karrasch, Octavio Medelin, Clayton Bailey, Stanley Zielinski, Norm Schulman, Diane Powell, Edith Franklin, and Erik Erikson at the second Toledo Museum of Art glass workshop, June 1962.[8] From the Harvey K. Littleton papers, 1946-1975. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Now that Littleton had spent some time experimenting, not only was the second workshop longer and more complex, it was also better organized and very well documented.[9] Labino and Schulman again provided generous assistance for the workshop, with the popularity of the first attracting an even wider and more diverse group than the first time around; Littleton's final assessment was that "a great deal was accomplished. We did get better annealing; we did get more pieces made; we melted test batches of glass.[10] While few of the attendees of either workshop went on to become professional glassblowers, each took the knowledge that they'd learned and helped move the idea of studio glassblowing forward in some way. Littleton, in particular, was pleased by the doors that the success of the workshops opened for him, with the immediate effect of the approval for his proposed independent study course in glassmaking at the University of Wisconsin for the fall of 1962.[11] And that's how, in 1962, the American Studio Glass Movement was born. As former Corning curator William Warmus remarked in a 1998 article on Littleton for GLASS Quarterly magazine, “The founding of studio glass may today seem obvious, even conservative, but almost everything about glassmaking is risky and difficult, and in 1962 the outcome was far from assured.”[12]

[1] Joan Falconer Byrd, "Chapter Three: 1962-64, Birth of the Studio Glass Movement," from Harvey K. Littleton: A Life in Glass (New York, Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc., 2011), 39.

[2] Ibid., 39.

[3] Ibid., 40.

[4] Ibid., 40.

[5] Ibid., 41.

[6] Ibid., 42.

[7] Ibid., 43.

[8] Ibid., 43.

[9] Ibid., 44.

[10] Ibid., 44.

[11] Ibid. 45.

[12] Corning Museum of Glass online, "Harvey K. Littleton and the American Studio Glass Movement: Harvey Littleton in Corning,", (accessed October 15, 2012).

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