At the Chrysler Museum’s Perry Glass Studio, referred to as the Glass Studio, in Norfolk, Virginia, world-class artists are shaking up the way people look at glass art. Artist Charlotte Potter, Glass Studio Manager, shares the team’s desire to make glass art more accessible, interesting and approachable through “edu-tainment” programs combining education and entertainment. I’m here to learn more about the different programs and there’s the promise of blowing glass.
The imaginative work being done in the glass studio perfectly complements the stunning displays held across the street in the Chrysler Museum of Art. Housing over 5,000 years of history (3,000 years of glass alone), the museum boasts one of the finest collections of glass art in the world. There are ancient Chinese pieces and English cameos, cocktail glasses, contemporary sculptures and even a window by Frank Lloyd Wright. Fans of the leaded glass lamps designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany will find the section dedicated to Tiffany Studios like stepping into an Art Nouveau dream.
Glass studio highlights
Visitors can view the artists at work every day (except Monday) at 12 noon when live demonstrations are held at the glass studio. These are also simulcast to the gallery in the museum. Observing the artists in action, you’ll quickly understand why their motto is Get Fired Up! There’s a passion for glass art that runs deep here and the open studio space is such that anyone can get caught up in the moment, whether you are simply observing or actively participating in a class.
The glass studio offers a variety of hands-on classes that give students of all skill levels the opportunity to gain basic knowledge and more advanced proficiency. Start with the paperweight class and work your way up to glass sculpting. Sign up for a one-day glassblowing class and create something you’d be proud to give your mother. The studio also hosts visiting artists who share their talents through classes and lectures.
Their innovative Third Thursday programmes celebrate glass art as performance art by melding artistic acts with glass artists at work. It might be live music, a comedy troupe or a theatre production working in conjunction with the glass artists. This mesmerizing show celebrates the creative vibe of artistic collaboration. These evening performances are as much fun for the artists as for the audience, and there’s a cash bar. You’ll never look at an ordinary drinking glass the same way after experiencing glass art in Norfolk.
The art of the candy dish
My instructors and exceptional glass artists, Van Eric Harned and Tim Spurchise are going to show me how to make a candy dish. The first step is to select the colours. Tim walks me through not only a brief history of glass, but also in selecting coloured glass frit that, as he puts it, look like ice cream sprinkles. I opt for blue and green, and he pours the granules into what look like silver gravy boats.
Next I watch Van insert a metal blowpipe into the 2,150°F (1,177°C) furnace and gather a blob of molten glass on the end. He pulls it from the inferno and rolls the glowing orange blob into a more recognizable mass. He goes to another furnace called the glory hole to heat up the now cooling glass before shaping the glass with a practiced hand, while I stand transfixed, watching him bring this piece to life. He makes the process of creating a candy dish look easy.
Soon Van dips the pipe into the colourful sprinkles and they melt into the hot glass. Tim hands me a rubber blow tube, which I hold gingerly between my fingers. More reheating and shaping with a pair of giant tweezers called jacks, and then I’m up. Sticking one end of the tube onto the pipe, Van tells me to blow, which I do. The glass expands like a colourful balloon. Tim tells me to stop. Then on their cue, I inhale to invert the bowl. It is amazing. I’m giddy. I don’t consider myself artistic at all and here I am blowing glass! I hand Tim back the tube as Van detaches the bowl, adds a small blob of glass for the stand and sends it to the kiln where it will slowly cool down. Though my candy dish is slightly off-kilter, I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made and I’d happily gift it to my mother. She’d probably even fill it with candy.
Good to know
Original works by studio artists may be purchased in the museum or glass studio gift shops.
The glass studio has been a catalyst for the NEON Arts District, where you can explore various art instalments and exhibits, enjoy a performance and choose from a variety of restaurants.
A Studio Assistantship program is open to recent undergraduates and MFA candidates, as well as those pursuing a professional career in glass.
The Third Thursday programs are very popular. Pick up tickets at 6 p.m. Since the show doesn’t start until 8 p.m., visit the art museum or wander the nearby arts district. These performances are simulcast in the museum’s glass gallery.
In addition to glass, the Chrysler Museum of Art has marvellous collections of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts ranging from ancient times to the present.
About this series: Our US Correspondent covers travel destinations in the US (and sometimes abroad). She gives you a closer look at well-known and little-known places, and if there’s humour to be found, she’ll find it.