Morris Museum Exhibits Contemporary Studio Art Glass

Mary Hrbacek
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www.artesmagazine.comKathleen Elliot’s new series of flame worked glass botanical sculptures are both unexpected and intriguing. She achieves rich surface textures and pure luminous colors in imagery that spans natural form from flowers, fruits, pods and nests, to complex entwined linear vines. The artist accentuates details that are often overlooked when one confronts nature, providing a wealth of visual information that captivates the viewer’s imagination. Elliot’s feeling for nature transcends the ordinary; she creates an amalgam of heightened spiritual feeling with a California awareness of animation that imbues her works with a refined otherworldly subtext.

Left: Kathleen Elliot, We’re All On the Same Tree (2008) Glass, 12″ h x 11″ w x 3″ d, (display base). artes fine arts magazine

Elliot takes observed, naturalistic representation to another level through her sensitive consciousness of harmonFuwww.artesmagazine.comious color relationships and intricate textural details. These features infuse her works with both a feeling of strength and an aura of wonder. Her branches and fruits seem dewy and fresh, as if they were still in their pristine native environment.

Right: Kathleen Elliot, Blue Moon Pods (2007) Glass, 11″h x 13″w x 6″d, (display base).

Technical intricacies and challenges notwithstanding, this genre lends scope for Elliot’s imaginative, yet subtle enhancement of natural plant forms. She has a lyrical poetic vision of form and content, providing a playful yet careful approach to her narrative interpretation of each work. The pieces are expertly mounted on linear metal stands or they are wall mounted. Elliot’s commitment to her craft is evidenced by the care with which she renders each shape. Every formal detail and part is clearly expressed, carefully composed, and solidly adhered to the piece as a whole. She has mastered the craft of flame throwing glass, resulting in pieces of great finesse.

Her works are reminiscent of the forms to be found in the film “Avatar,” in which natural botanical shapes are accentuated in an animation format that express both sweetness and fantasy. Sometimes Elliot’s articulation of the vines suggests ropes or jewelry chains; in this way, an unconscious sense of multiple meaning emerges from her works. They are rarely as straightforward, or as naturalistic as they might appear at first glimpse. While her works are carefully observed, they go beyond visual appearances to take the pieces to a realm of personal expression. The artist displays special sensitivity in rendering leaves with a geometric subtext that is especially captivating when the leaves are almost square in shape, or are very much rounded. Her works are never ostentatious; they are refined, yet she teases the viewer with witty, reloaded ideas of nature’s possibilities in a recent expanded vision that embodies human qualities with botanical features.

The artist employs intuitive creative process that allows her the freedom to change the course of a piece, as its inner necessity requires. Sometimes her works are inspired by environmental phenomena as diverse as patterns of shadow or light reflected on a surface, or even the memory of a conversation. The pieces explore a range of metaphoric imagery that yields symbolic meaning on themes from personal growth to emotional responses to life’s demands, to dancers and infants. Her process develops over weeks or even months. Recently, Elliot has become engaged with the symbolic possibilities inherent in the cyclone form, as it expresses life energy in a spiraling cone of expanding metaphoric personal growth.

Left: Kathleen Elliot, Acorns (2007) Glass, 11″h x 13″w x 6″d, (display base).

Elliot’s glass works transcend the tradition of decorative glass objects, blurring the boundaries the medium traditionally suggests, to create signature glass sculptures of a unique and personal vision, in a genre that is growing in universal appeal. While her works recall Dale Chihuly’s glass pieces, her art has its own unique expression, scope and direction. Elliot’s affinity for botanical forms enables her to convey a heightened level of spiritual energy to glass art forms that project a subtle yet convincing radiant transformation of nature’s everyday state. In this respect, the sculptures give a symbolic optimistic message.

Paul Stankard, Golden Orb Floral Triptych, 8″x 4″x 2″

Paul Joseph Stankard (b. 1943), whose work is also on display at the Morris, is considered the father of modern glass paperwights. His driving desire was to “be on the creative side”, starting production on glass paperweights in his garage while working in industry. It was when Stankard displayed his early paperweights at a craft exhibit on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey, that an internationally respected art dealer saw his work, thus allowing him to move full-time into making glass art.

In the early 1960s, paperweights made by other American artisans showcased brightly colored  flowers that were not botanically accurate. Stankard labored to make his glass floral designs look more natural and botanically lifelike. His glass flowers were so authentic looking that many people mistake his florals thought for actual encased flowers in glass. Soon thereafter, paperweight makers (mostly American) were following Stankard’s lead. Stankard, is now an internationally acclaimed artist, largely credited with changing the status of glass paperweights from that of “craft” to that of “fine art”

Paul Stankard’s glawww.artesmagazine.comss art presents intricate combinations of botanical matter composed of glass seeds, moss, vines, or non-specific organic fragments, embedded in small scale clear glass cubes. Some of the works suggest archeological remnants that have been preserved unscathed for millennia within the earth. The pieces raise universal questions about survival, regeneration and renewal in all earth’s life forms.

Left: Paul Stankard, Orb Series, Fecundity Boquet.

Stankard is interested in integrating mysticism with botanical realism giving the glass organic credibility. Through his work, he references the continuum of nature, by portraying and exploring the mysteries of fertility and decay. The work celebrates the primal beauty of nature on an intimate level, influenced by the poetry of Walt Whitman. Stankard’s vision creates a new perception of the possibilities of paperweights as fine art.

By Mary Hrbacek, Contributing Writer

“Reflections: Contemporary Studio Art Glass” is on view until April 28, 2013

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