Bursts of Light: Contemporary Glass at the IARC
Within a decade, nearly one hundred glass programs were established in art schools and universities across the country. After his graduation in 1972, Ahvakana became part of that expansion when he founded the glass art program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, working and teaching with the equipment donated to the school by his mentor, Chihuly. His first student, Tony Jojola (Isleta Pueblo), was honored by the Wheelwright Museum with a solo exhibition entitled Born of Fire in 2000. Today, the number of Native American glass artists continues to grow in art programs across the country and at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington, where Preston Singletary (Tlingit) is a trustee. The IARC has supported this innovative medium through its artist fellowship program over the last three decades by including artists who specialize in and experiment with glass and glass beads.
I have always loved and admired Hopi pottery and glassblowing allows me to express this love and admiration in a way that does not violate or overstep cultural boundaries.—Ramson Lomatewama
Hot glass, melted in a furnace, is gathered on the end of a blow pipe and expands with the breath of the artist. While still molten, the glass is shaped by the artist’s hand with wood and metal tools that round, elongate, or compress the molten material. It is a fluid medium that by its nature can fuse disparate ideas, colors, and forms. But it is also a demanding medium that requires patience, dexterity, and strength. The finished form embodies the aesthetic of risk inherent in the challenge to maintain the fluid state of the glass that demands constant rotation and repeated returns to the furnace on the end of a heavy metal pipe. A video of Ramson Lomatewama at work offers a glimpse of the meticulous process of creating a blown glass vessel.
SLUMPED AND FUSED GLASS
When I’m weaving or I’m making kapa, I’m understanding that material. That understanding then allows you to take those same processes and conceptual ideas and move them to a contemporary material. You’re doing the same thing, and that’s what makes it Hawaiian.—Maile Andrade
The processes of slumping and fusing glass take place in a kiln heated to about 1110°F. In the kiln, a flat piece of glass is placed over a mold and heated until it becomes soft and gradually flows under its own weight to take shape by slumping around or into the mold. Similarly, separate pieces of glass can be fused in the kiln by placing them adjacent to each other. When heated, the boundaries of the glass soften and fuse to the adjoining glass. Maile Andrade uses both methods to create the disparate forms of her work.
Sculpting glass in its cold, solid state is similar in technique to the subtractive process of carving stone. Glass can be carved with acid, hand tools, or power equipment that polishes, cuts, grinds, or blasts sand in a fine stream. The glass body that is carved may be blown, cast, or reclaimed from other processes. Lena Boone gathers glass from many sources including fragments of Italian Murano glass and slag glass—a by-product of metal smelting. In speaking about how she learned the process, she notes, “My grandfather was Teddy Weahkee and I remember seeing him and my mom working on fetishes, which were religious items at the time. I grew up with the art. Eventually, I started carving my own pieces [in 1972]. I enjoyed it!”
Any sort of tedious, repetitive work like this is meditation. You experience a calmness when you’re doing this work.—Marcus Amerman
Indigenous people of this continent first created beads from stone, bone, and shell. European glass beads were introduced through trade in the sixteenth century. The first glass beads were precious and used individually to decorate personal items, similar to the techniques of Linda Aguilar, Carol Emarthle-Douglas, and Glenda McKay, who attach single beads to their artwork for embellishment. Smaller translucent beads introduced in trade during the nineteenth century revolutionized the possibilities of style and technique. Woodland communities created brilliant fields of color in more intricate and organic designs by embroidering countless small beads onto clothing and accessories. In the Great Plains, beads were used to decorate clothing and horse regalia with extravagant designs identifiable from great distances. During the devastating reservation period of the late nineteenth century, women created the most elaborate beadwork by covering entire garments with beaded pictorial scenes and geometric designs. Today, contemporary artists like Marcus Amerman and Teri Greeves extend this artistic legacy into the twenty-first century.