Texas and United States Glass History Summary

The inspiration for glass began in the 1960's. When I was young, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I had the opportunity to see glass blowing as a young child. It was a dark sultry brick building with glowing sticks of light in a small glass factory in Riverhead, New York. It was magical! I have since returned to that location and found that it is now a residence home with some of the bricks and history incorporated into it's design.

Some many years later, in 1988, I was again introduced to glass during a Texas Association Schools of Art Conference in Junction, Texas. Then, Bill Bagley, an art professor from Texas Tech University, gave a glass blowing demonstration for the group. Again, it was magical! I then spent a week with Bill soaking up his knowledge of glass. My delight in glass was unbearable! I continued with warm glass fusing and slumping as there were no facilities for Hot Glass in South Texas. Bill Bagley, Texas Tech University in Lubbock and Matthew Labarbera, Fire Island in Austin, were all that existed. Robert Willson was living in San Antonio and blowing glass in Murano, Italy at that time which I knew nothing about.

Knowing this dilemma, I secured a small seed grant from a private foundation and began the process of establishing glass blowing facilities at Coastal Bend College. The private foundation offered us the opportunity to develop glass and has continued their support yearly.

Texas Tech University closed glass due to the death of Bill Bagley in 2000. However, it does continue today at the Junction site in the summer with Angie Health, one of Bills graduates and a CBC workshop participant.

Other schools, such as University of Texas at Arlington — Jim Bowman (Bill Bagley student) and West Texas State University — Darold Smith (Jayne Duryea student) and Mary Harden Baylor University — Hershal Seals (Jayne Duryea student) have set up glass since. There are now hundreds of private glass blowing facilities across the state. Many of whom were glass students from Coastal Bend College.

I have been teaching at Coastal Bend College since 1981 and in 1990 the first academic glass classes began. Coastal Bend College is the oldest academic glass blowing facility in the state. Glass was so new for South Texas that in 1989, the Art Museum of South Texas gave me a show in the down stairs entry way of my very first small glass works.

I teach traditional offhand Italian glass techniques of blown and solid work. These techniques are the new contemporary studio glass. There is nothing new under the sun, only new experiences and new expressions through new creative people. Unlike Italy in the past, America offers the opportunity to be free, a new liberation, a hunger for technical knowledge, an artistic expression in glass as opposed to the constraints of tradition of the glass factories in Murano. The most esteemed teacher today is Lino Tagliapietra. He has brought the traditional Venetian techniques, as a Maestro, to us and become an artist in his own right from his American experiences. Before he came to the states in 1979, he was a factory production worker on the island of Murano, Italy. Glass in Italy is now changed forever as well.

Hot shops are many in Texas and across the United States. From the pulse of the glass world, I suspect that contemporary glass will become the new “Impressions” of our time originating in the United States. This is evident in that contemporary glass enthusiast are feverishly collecting contemporary glass and not the beautiful crystal of their grandparents as seen in the recent closing of the Steuben crystal glass factory in New York.

Contemporary glass is a relatively new media for artistic expression in the United States, just 50 years old in 2012. The Studio Glass movement began in 1962 with a ceramic professor, Harvey Littleton and a chemist, Dominick Labino working outside the factory setting of industrial and utilitarian production. Contemporary glass in the United States has grown experientially and exploration is moving faster than believed possible. With the flooding of the market in the last 10 years of Chinese knock–offs of production craft and vessel forms being sold at a minimum, everyone can now enjoy hand blown production glass work. Due to this, contemporary glass in the United States has been hurled into the use of glass as a true sculptural media for expression and no longer the historical production craft that it has been in the past. The glass artist, Chihuly, has pushed glass over the top with the massive sculptural installations produced by his team in the past few years. One can see works beyond the scope of simple craft to full blown hot sculptured works never seen or imagined before. The expression is unlimited and daunting in its scope and as to the distance in expression, it is never ending. We have just begun to touch the surface of where contemporary glass will venture.