Corning Museum of Glass
ARTISTIC FLAT GLASS, as a category, is not easy to define. It includes stained glass windows and painted, engraved, and textured walls that relate to architecture, and these are typically categorized as architectural glass. Where the classification of architectural glass fails is in the consideration of the autonomous panel. an important format in flat glass since the 1970s. Autonomous panels, which constitute the bulk of this section. look and act more like paintings than like windows, walls, or interior furnishings because they do not require or even want an architectural housing. Their primary concern is not function. but what is represented. Thus, in this overview, flat glass and three-dimensional glass whose focus is the image-whether painted, engraved, assembled, or photographed-are grouped together.
It is generally expected that images on glass will be narrative, and much, though not all, of the flat and three-dimensional glass presented here depicts themes that are treated representationally. Historical stained glass is rich in all kinds of subject matter. and a similar wealth is found in contemporary glass.
Portraiture has been promoted and encouraged in glass by a small group of artists, including Jii’i Harcuba, Narcissus Quagliata. and William Bernstein. Internationally recognized for his engraved glass. Harcuba has nearly single-handedly kept the craft alive through his energetic and intuitive handling of a highly demanding technique. His portrait of Franz Kafka is one of thousands of portraits of people-famous and unknown-that he has made on his own or that have been commissioned from him. Quagliata, whose work is not represented here by a portrait but by an abstract painting, is an important influence in stained glass, and his large-scale portraits are still some of the most impressive images in that medium. Bernstein has used the face as a decorative motif in his goblets for many years, but his best portraits are those that have recently appeared on a series of long-necked bottles.
The subject of the self in portraiture has been taken up by even fewer artists working in glass. and Dick Weiss and Cappy Thompson are its best-known practitioners. Weiss, whose work in stained glass explores color and pattern, focuses on the face in his painted vessels, sometimes surrounding his self-portraits with decorative elements. Thompson has worked extensively with stained glass and reverse painting on glass. Her panels and vessels depict stories that pair elements ofthe everyday with myth and fable. In recent years, she has developed an elaborate personal mythology, creating a context in her paintings for encounters with totemic animals, gods, and other spiritual beings.
The self may also be used as a vehicle for narrative. Judith Schaechter’s protagonists, who represent an aspect of the artist and at the same time Everyman. experience suffering. anxiety. loss, and redemption. Haunting. edgy, and unpredictable. Schaechter’s visions in stained glass are inspired by the beauty and tragedy of medieval art. Flat glass is most commonly used for the illustration of stories. whether they are everyday, historical, mythical, personal. imaginary. or legendary. Alison Kinnaird works with engraved glass and fiber optics to create an ethereal, large-scale tableau about daily life. while Willem Volkersz combines neon and vintage postcards in his cheerful piece about summer vacation travel. A darker and more surrealistic take on things is suggested by Kazumi lkemoto’s disconcerting vessel with the portrait of a boy and a large sheep. and by Frances Binnington’s reverse-painted and gilded panel. Here, a rifle, casually placed on a chair, implies a possibly violent denouement to come. The stage setting is luxurious, yet empty, and the objects await human action. Animals and fantastic creatures are standard fare in stained glass. such as the Alice in Wonderland-style rabbit by Kenneth Leap. or Joseph Cavalieri’s stylish. cavorting nanny goats. Scott Benefield introduces elements of voodoo symbolism in his creation of an insidious, intriguing creature that silently steals love from its human victims. Hans-Gottfried von Stockhausen and Gerhard Ribka work in the category of myth and legend. Here. Stockhausen makes a charming illustration of the myth of Daphne. the daughter of a river god who was transformed into a laurel tree to escape the amorous advances of Apollo. Ribka’s panel, executed in an anxious. childlike style, addresses the martyrdom of Saint Anastasius. A Persian soldier who converted to Christianity. Anastasius was strangled and beheaded by his countrymen when he refused to renounce his faith. His body. thrown to the dogs. was left untouched. Other symbolic narratives include Denise Stillwagon Leone’s moving piece about the events of September 11, 2001, painted in a gritty grisaille, and a mixed-media sculpture about time by Mary Van Cline.
In flat glass and painted glass. abstraction appears in a range of guises from decorative treatments to complex paintings. Robert Kehlmann is one of a group of California artists who pioneered abstraction in American stained glass, and his panels remain challenging and original. Landscape is an essential element in the works of Nicole Chesney and Maureen Williams. While Chesney creates shimmering images of sea-or skyscapes in plate glass. encaustic. and oil paint. Williams paints her vessels with marks that look as if they are burned into the surface, creating a topography that is inspired by Australian aboriginal drawings.
Ursula Huth and Johannes Hewell are part of a diverse group of German artists who have experimented with abstraction in flat glass over the last 30 years. Huth’s exuberant expressionism and Hewell’s quiet minimalism illustrate the variety of approaches to this style. Narcissus Quagliata and Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, whose works in flat glass have commanded attention since the 1980s, recently turned from narrative subjects to abstraction. Stinsmuehlen-Amend focuses on pattern in her mixed-media pieces that have a strong graphic quality. while Quagliata dives into color, creating huge wall panels and architectural treatments. The panels by Albinas Elskus. an artist who has been especially influential, and Mary White follow other avenues of exploration.