Fifty Years: Contemporary American Glass from Illinois Collections is designed as a sampling tour through the world of American contemporary glass art, showing the wide diversity of technique and vocabulary used by the artists.
In 1962 Harvey Littleton, then ceramicist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, along with Dominick Labino, vice-president of the Johns Manville Corporation, developed a small glass furnace on the grounds of the Toledo Museum of Art. This major development in glass making allowed an artist to create works in a studio setting. In addition, Littleton organized two workshops to demonstrate the use of glass as an artistic medium; these workshops became the foundation of the American Studio Glass Movement.
In the beginning, there were two distinguishing characteristics of American studio glass: unification of the roles of designer and maker, and a focus on blown glass as distinct from other processes of forming objects from glass. Fifty years later, these two characteristics no longer describe American glass art. Blown glass is still a major thread; however, cast glass, coldworked glass, and hot-sculpted glass are also important techniques of the movement. Although many artists design and make their own pieces, others, notably Dale Chihuly, work with gaffers who make the pieces under their direction.
This exhibition emphasizes the latter half of the fifty-year history, although a few early pieces are included. The works are all drawn from the private collections of those living in Illinois, with a small bias towards artists with a connection to Illinois.
A few of the artists represented in the exhibition, including Dale Chihuly, Marvin Lipofsky, and Joel Philip Myers were students of Littleton, while many others were students of Littleton's students. Almost all of the artists are actively producing glass art today, with the exception of Littleton, Labino, who is deceased, and William Morris.