Exploring themes in Fluid Formations

A seashell with barnacles. A flaming electric guitar. What do these have in common, you might wonder? They are both made of glass and on view in Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest. The exhibition in the Lightcatcher building features 57 artists working in glass and showcases their striking range of processes and ideas.

About Fluid Formations

The exhibition draws from the Museum’s permanent collection, loans from artists, and loans from Museum of Glass in Tacoma. It celebrates the region’s impact as the epicenter of glass, spurred by the establishment of Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington, in 1971.

Fifty years later, the region’s glass community has expanded significantly, defined by shared knowledge, teamwork, and an experimental spirit.

Fluid Formations shares the work of artists including Nancy Callan, Dale Chihuly, Jen Elek, Dan Friday, Kelly O’Dell, Preston Singletary, Ethan Stern, Erich Woll, and many more.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 10. Learn more about the art and artists by taking a curator or docent-led tour.

Exploring themes

Museum Curator of Art Amy Chaloupka spent more than a year working to curate Fluid Formations in close partnership with Museum of Glass. While the exhibition shows great diversity of process, visitors are likely to notice a few themes.

Here, Chaloupka shares insights and highlights some of the artworks that touch on themes of nature, humor/play, portraiture/narrative, and light/shadow.

Nature

Several artists directly comment on both the resilience and fragility of species and ecosystems through their work. Most of the artists in the exhibition live in the Pacific Northwest, where access to rich coastal habitats and dense forests are within reach. In many cases, personal and artistic identity entwine with nature as artists connect art and daily life through activities like fishing, hiking, foraging, and more.

William Morris
Fish Trap

An avid outdoorsman who fishes, dives, and climbs, William Morris lives his art and explores the entwined relationship between man and nature. Particularly, he examines symbols and rituals across cultures, such as fishing, to probe this bond.

Morris can transform glass into something entirely unexpected. Using acid washes, etching, and surface powders to push the material beyond recognition, the artist creates textures that resemble stone, bone, clay, wood, fiber, or other natural materials.

Credit: William Morris; Fish Trap, 2007; Blown glass with steel stand; 11 x 26 x 6 in. Courtesy of William Morris Studio. Photo by Rob Vinnedge.

Shelley Muzylowski Allen
In The Morning Light

Shelley Muzylowski Allen works with the expressive forms of animals to create contemplative scenes that call out the fragile nature of animal species through the vulnerable material of glass.

In her piece In the Morning Light, a horse rests only for a moment, possibly to view its reflection or to take a drink, and like the title of the piece suggests, expresses a still and fleeting moment in time.

The artist currently lives and works alongside her artist husband Rik Allen, in Skagit County.

Credit: Shelley Muzylowski Allen; In The Morning Light, 2018; Blown, hand sculpted and engraved glass, steel; 35.5 x 10 x 7 in. Photo by Daniel Fox. Courtesy of the artist.

Glass sculpture of two horse heads touching noses and mouths together, appearing as a reflection of one looking down
Kelly O’Dell and Raven Skyriver
Treasure-trove

Raised in Hawai’i, Kelly O’Dell grew up familiar with glass. Her parents worked in stained and furnace glass and she gravitated to the material as a student at the University of Hawai’i, which provided further opportunities to study at Pilchuck Glass School. 

Raven Skyriver was raised on Lopez Island, and began working in glass in high school under the mentorship of Lark Dalton. He met O’Dell at Pilchuck where they both worked on William Morris’ team for many years.

Both artists communicate their deep connection to nature through their work—with Kelly O’Dell centering on conservation and the fragility of endangered species, and Raven Skyriver focusing more specifically on marine ecosystems, such as the Salish Sea he explored in his youth.

Credit: Kelly O’Dell and Raven Skyriver; Treasure-trove, 2016; Blown and sculpted glass; 12 x 16 x 13 in. Collection of Museum of Glass, gift of the artists. Photo by Kp Studios.

white blown glass shell with yellow stripes and white and purple barnacles

Humor/Play

The choice to create playful or humorous art can serve as a visual bridge, making ideas and messages more accessible. Many artists take advantage of the vibrant array of colors available, and capacity for glass to be sculpted into rounded, cartoon-like shapes to create disarming and approachable forms.

In Fluid Formations, guitars, beach balls, toy cars, exclamation points, and fire extinguishers are familiar objects, but they are delightfully unexpected when materialized in glass.

Richard Marquis
Teapot Cartoon Car

Richard Marquis’ sculptures are humorous and colorful and play with ideas of kitsch and nostalgia, achieved through incredibly technical and sophisticated forms.

Marquis is also a prolific collector of a vast array of objects including antique oil cans, rubber squeeze toys, paint by number paintings, and more. Marquis will sometimes combine his collected objects with glass to create assemblages that reveal his folk art interests and idiosyncratic vision.

Credit: Richard Marquis; Teapot Cartoon Car, Made at Museum of Glass in 2013; Blown glass; granulare technique, wood; 8.5 x 12.75 x 7.5 in. Collection of Museum of Glass, gift of the artist. Photographed in gallery. 

Ben Beres
Incantations in the Round

In his work Incantations in the Round, Ben Beres composes poems that he works into the vessel surfaces in a graphic pattern through a process of masking and sandblast etching. The words create a swirling typography that snake around the shape of the vessel.

The meandering text is only deciphered as one walks circles around the piece to read it, submitting the viewer to participate in a dance with the work.

Credit: Ben Beres; Incantations in the Round, Made at Museum of Glass in 2019; Blown and sand-blasted glass; 10.25 x 8.25 in. Collection of Museum of Glass, gift of the artist.

Portraiture/Narrative

The capacity for glass to convey narrative, complex ideas, or reveal truths about human nature is vast. For this reason, artists have approached this versatile material to explore their ideas. Many artists use the vessel form as a metaphor for the human figure, envisioning body and mind as container. They work with the surface as both canvas and anatomic structure to relay emotion, breathing life and character into their work.

Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman
Untitled from the Himba Portrait series

As collaborators for 28 years, Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman draw inspiration from life experiences, travels abroad, and studies of both ancient and contemporary cultures with an emphasis on women.

The artists traveled to northwest Namibia in 2008, meeting and photographing women from the Himba culture. They incorporate photographic portraits with blown glass surfaces, allowing them to maintain the image quality by using a process similar to screen printing.

They achieve this by applying fine grain enamels through a screen onto a blown glass patty, or flattened sphere. The glass is then blown into large orbs which are later set in metal and embellished with beads and patinas resembling large jewels to further reinforce ideas of feminine sensuality and power.

Credit: Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman; Untitled from the Himba Portrait series, Made at Museum of Glass in 2016; Original Image: Screen printed, kiln-fired, blown, sand-carved, and sand-blasted; steel with patina finish; copper, beads; 33 x 18 x 5 in. Collection of Museum of Glass, gift of the artists.

Cappy Thompson
Sweet Dreamer

For more than 40 years, Cappy Thompson has honed a variety of techniques, including engraving and painting on glass to create her detailed, stylized narratives. Thompson maps out her scenes in sketches that she then translates to either flat glass or vessels.

Through a folk-art style, she draws from her own dreams and life experiences intertwined with universal mythologies and references to spiritual traditions across cultures.

Experiencing her “picture poems” in the round gives the feeling of viewing a medieval scroll painting and the circle format implies a timeless and continuous flow to the story.

Credit: Cappy Thompson; Sweet Dreamer, Made at Museum of Glass in 2003; Blown, cased, and hydrofluoric-acid-etched glass; 10.5 x 10.5 x 11.5 in. Collection of Museum of Glass, gift of the artist. Photographed in gallery. 

Light/Shadow

The optical qualities of glass are varied, with surfaces that can range from opaque to transparent. Glass can amplify light, color a shadow, or become a lens to look through, creating illusion or distortion. Shadow becomes holistically part of the piece.

Bennett Battaile
Third Wave

In Third Wave, Bennett Battaile’s lace-like stitching of glass rods is created by heating and melting the rods together while shaping their forms using a hand-held torch. The effect is an interconnected webbing that creates a strong structure while maintaining an airy and delicate appearance.

Battaile’s formal education is in mathematics and computer science, subjects he folds into his glass creations.

Credit: Bennett Battaile; Third Wave, 1998; Flameworked glass; 36 x 36 x 8 in. Whatcom Museum collection, gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group, and Washington Art Consortium. Photographed in gallery.

 
Ellen Ziegler
Hypnagogue 1

Ellen Ziegler explores reflection, transparency, and opacity as light travels through the glass in Hypnagogue 1. Using light and shadow to create compositions on the wall, Ziegler hints that optics and perception are the subjects at hand.

“This medium suggests to me the visual and auditory hallucinations that sometimes occur during the period between waking and sleeping known as the hypnagogic state,” writes Ziegler.

Credit: Ellen Ziegler; Hypnagogue 1, 2009; Diptych of mirrored glass, light and shadow; 24 x 3 in. and 8 x 13 in. Whatcom Museum collection, gift of the artist. Photographed in gallery. 

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