Local glass blowers Bengt Hokanson, left, and wife, Trefny Dix, work the kiln in their glass studio near Horse Gulch. The two will be featured in “Hot!,” the DAC’s monthlong art glass retrospective, which opens Fri., July 6/Photo by Steve Eginoire

Reflections in glass

DAC gets “Hot!” – a look back at 50 years of art studio glass in America
HOT! heats up Arts Center’s July schedule
by Stew Mosberg

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the development of studio art glass in America. To celebrate this milestone and recognize the many talented artists, exhibitions and events are slated across the United States at various venues, the Durango Arts Center included.

Glass is ubiquitous in everyday life. We drink from it, package products in it, wear it and even collect it. It’s been around for thousands of years and has been coveted as art for almost that long. Early forms of glass date back as far as 7,000BC, albeit in the form of beads rather than as more utilitarian objects. With the invention of the blowpipe (c. 100BC) hollow glass became feasible, thus paving the way for the manufacture of glass containers.

It was not until the Middle Ages however, on the island of Murano near Venice, that glass first became a medium of the arts. Although glass was used in jewelry centuries ago, its real beginning as an art form came with Venetian glass, and flourished in the late-nineteenth century when artisans such as the Daum Brothers, Emil Gallé, Rene Lalique and Louis C. Tiffany, among others, created glass that was, and still is, highly prized for its originality and beauty.

Many museums and galleries around the world display and represent glass as their sole medium, and Pismo Gallery of Denver, Vail and Beaver Creek, is one of the best. Starting July 6, the DAC will host “Hot!” an impressive exhibition of some of Pismo’s most exquisite pieces; all of which will be for sale.

According to Mary Puller, DAC exhibits director, the show was put together in conjunction with The Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, which funded part of it, and Regina Hogan, of New Face Productions, which puts on the successful TOP show. Hogan’s affinity for art glass comes by way of her architect son who had previously worked on a project with Dale Chihuly, one of today’s most famous contemporary glass artists, whose work is included in the exhibit.

The show’s title was suggested by Trefny Dix who, along with partner Bengt Hokanson, owns Durango’s Hokanson-Dix Studio, a working glass “hot shop” and gallery near the entrance of Horse Gulch. The pair will also be hosting a glass blowing demonstration and a lecture on the venerable art form at the DAC.

Puller described the events surrounding the exhibition as one example of the DAC’s invigorated outreach effort. “We at DAC are trying to make the Arts Center an even stronger community arts facility,” she said. “I believe it is valuable to all for us at DAC to regularly incorporate this caliber of exhibition; the educational components are important for us, (as are) the demonstrations.”

Activities included in the celebration will be three trunk shows featuring glass jewelry by local artisan Carol Martin (July 13); blown glass by Ignacio-based artisan Roger Dale (July 27); and fused glass/jewelry by Nancy Conrad (Aug. 3). Each of the trunk shows will be held in the Barbara Conrad Gallery. There also will be films on the art of glass blowing, as well as two presentations; one by Dix and Hokanson titled, “Brief History of Contemporary Glass;” and another, “From Functional to Fabulous: American Studio Glass at Fifty” featuring Pismo owner Sandy Sardella and Marianne Lorenz, executive director of the Fort Collins Museum of Art.

Puller explained that the trunk shows were developed in order to showcase differing glass techniques and educate the public, who will be able to discuss the processes with the artists.

With Sardella’s input, Puller chose 50 pieces by 27 international artists from the Pismo collection. Prices range from a $195 paperweight by Josh Simpson to the $53,000 Lino Tagliapietra piece that is featured on the invitation and poster. At more than 5 feet in length, it is easily the largest piece of glass in the show.

Making the experience even more special for Durango is the exclusivity. “We have participated in some small events, but nothing to this extent,” said Pismo’s Sardella. “We helped The Fort Collins Museum of Art set up an exhibition with some of our Colorado glass collectors earlier this year in conjunction with a (Dale) Chihuly exhibition they were doing.” PISMO also will be participated in a show at SOFA (Sculpture Objects & Functional Art) Chicago in the fall; an international exhibition where galleries exhibit works by a handful of their top or emerging artists.

The derivation of the show’s title is a reference to the intense heat needed in the production and creation of glass artifacts. For the uninitiated, glass blowing is part alchemy, part art. The glass making studio, or “hot shop,” generally has several kilns; one that is run 24/7.

The mega heat is used to keep the molten glass liquefied and then gathered up as a gob and adhered to the long stainless steel blowpipe. The gob is worked into a shape that will ultimately become the finished object. Once attached, the gob is placed into another kiln called the “glory hole,” which is more than 2,000  degrees Fahrenheit. Here, it is constantly turned while on the pipe to keep it from falling into a pile of molten nothingness. The pipe is then blown into, cooled, rolled, placed back into the fire, turned, removed, blown into again, rolled, added to, and so on.

The process of glassblowing is fascinating to watch and difficult to master. Throughout, artists use snipping tools, diamond shears and cherry wood paddles, to coax, cajole and fashion the piece, until it almost magically transforms into a work of art.

The intense heat of the kilns, the shards of glass, the sheers and other tools all make for a potentially hazardous environment, and safety is important. Each tool has its place and eye protection, and fire retardant gloves and garments are worn around the hot shop throughout the day.
“Hot!” is a rare, must-see exhibit and is a clear reflection of the DAC’s vision for future exhibitions


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