MANCHESTER — For more than 5,000 years, glass has been a material known for practical use, as well as beauty when in the hands of a master artisan. And for a tiny state like Vermont, these artists seem to be in some abundance.
To that end, in a collaboration with the nascent Vermont Glass Guild, the Southern Vermont Arts Center recently opened the exhibition, "Modern Alchemy: The Art of Glass." The show, which includes glass works from 30 artists, will run through July 10, and is hosted at SVAC's Wilson Museum and Art Galleries.
Founded in 2010, the Vermont Glass Guild brings together artists working in glass for joint support and professional development. This exhibition highlights the broad spectrum of glass art created using age-old techniques, including blown, kiln-formed, torch-worked, and stained glass.
"Modern Alchemy" is co-curated by Hadrien Redouin, SVAC's gallery director, and Genevieve Cole of Funktional Glassworks in Springfield, who has several pieces in the show. The concept came about in a three way brainstorming Cole and Redouin had with Robert DuGrenier, of Robert DuGrenier Associates in Townshend.
"When I met Robert and Genevieve for the first time I shared my vision for a collaborative exhibition with the Vermont Glass Guild," Redouin said. "We visited the gallery space together, and I explained my ambition to have the best glass blowers of New England for a unique show that would change the perception people have about glass work."
The Guild members were sold on the idea.
Cole, who moved to Vermont in 2003 after having lived and worked in France as a glass blower and co-owner of an ornamental iron studio, said that organizing an exhibition on this scale requires several months of planning and preparation, and "a willingness to do whatever it takes to make it happen."
"I spent a lot of time communicating with artists by first reaching out to everyone to sell the concept," Cole said. "Once all of the pieces are in the gallery, I work with [Redouin's] staff to display 200-plus pieces of glass of all shapes and sizes in a cohesive manner, telling each artist's individual story while creating an overall visual experience."
That experience resulted in the SVAC gallery adorned in a manner not previously seen in this corner of the tri-state area. The space has been transformed into a chromatic cornucopia of the shiny, the smooth, and perhaps most importantly, the unexpected.
DuGrenier, one of the Guild's founding members, said there is an immediacy to working with glass that is extremely gratifying.
"The process of making glass allows me to communicate with and through the material during the creation of my work," DuGrenier said. "My understanding of how the material moves, forms, and cools is a culmination of years experimenting with glass. Often the pieces result in a frozen moment of time that show the fluidity, clarity and beauty of the material without really showing the hand of the maker."
One of those makers is Karen Deets, of Karen Deets Stained Glass in Fair Haven, who has several of her pieces in the show. Like many artists, Deets took a risk to pursue her craft. In 1976, when in her twenties, she quit her job as a public school art teacher in New Jersey to become a full time craftsperson.
Deets embarked on a generation-long journey of self-education, custom work, gallery ownership, and finally moving to Vermont in 2010. She described her efforts in stained glass as having developed into "strong representational depictions of nature, trees and mountain landscapes with a playful side."
"I'm constantly experimenting," she added.
Andrew Weill of Manchester Hot Glass also knows about experimenting. At 16 he walked into a New Jersey glass blowing studio, landed a job that created a passion he took through college, a later stint in Sweden, and today his own studio in the Northshire.
"I learned very quickly that glass is a humbling art form," Weill said. "Just when you thought a project was finished, something catastrophic happens and you're forced to start over."
Considering the enthusiasm of the participating artists, gallery director Redouin concluded by saying that it's highly gifted people who make glass, and this state has an abundance of them.
"What I see with this show is a revelation," Redouin said. "People are amazed to discover the artists on display here. They love to discover new talent and we are prolific here in Vermont. This show is unique. It is spectacular."
"Modern Alchemy: The Art of Glass" runs through July 10 at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, 930 SVAC Drive, in Manchester. Info: 802-362-1405 or visit: svac.org.
— Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist