The Rise and Fall of American Glass



MILLVILLE, New Jersey — A profusion of beckoning tendrils, undulating leaves, flowers, pearly orbs, and woodland mushrooms spill out of Philadelphia-based glass artist Amber Cowan’s irrepressible, maximalist assemblages in her exhibition Alchemy of Adornment, on view at WheatonArts’ Museum of American Glass. The present delves into themes together with femininity and nostalgia with a slate of hypnotic new works

“My work is predicated on the rejuvenation and reuse of American pressed glass,” Cowan writes in her artist statement. Over the previous 15 years, the artist and educator has exhibited her elaborate sculptures all over the world, together with solo exhibits at Heller Gallery in New York Metropolis and the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. Her new present is located in a cultural institute in South Jersey. Often known as a hub of glass manufacturing, with greater than 200 native glasshouses at its peak, it’s a spot notably properly suited to showcase Cowan’s paintings, with its inextricable ties to American glass manufacturing. 

Treasure searching is a part of Cowan’s course of. She collects vintage pressed glassware from the heyday of American glass manufacturing (suppose vases, candlesticks, sweet dishes, collectible figurines, and knickknacks) from flea markets and thrift outlets, in addition to cullet, the gleaming, gemstone-like hunks of the scrap glass that stay after a manufacturing facility’s manufacturing run. Cowan melts the cullet to create new components, which fill her sculptures and proceed to disclose themselves the longer you look, like pleasant objects in an  “I Spy” book. A four-and-a-half-minute video on the entrance exhibits the artist at work, pouring lava-like molten glass right into a classic cast-iron mildew at WheatonArts’ glass studio, which is a reproduction of the previous T.C. Wheaton Co., a glass manufacturing facility opened close by in 1888. In one other scene, she twirls blobs of glass that appear as malleable as taffy over a flame, shaping them with shears right into a leaf, a flower, a thorny twig. 

Amber Cowan, “Bittersweet, River, and Milk” (2023), glass, 23 x 16 x 6 inches

Put in inside a dozen show circumstances inside a jewel-box gallery off the museum’s faux-Victorian foyer, Alchemy of Adornment concurrently appears in time, pairing Cowan’s works with associated items of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century glassware (vases, goblets, coated dishes, collectible figurines) from the museum’s assortment. In freestanding sculptures and altar-like wall items that teem with wildlife and shiny, seductive surfaces, accumulations of classic housewares meld with freshly fabricated components. These monochromatic medleys mix Surrealism with Rococo sensibilities and blur distinctions between new and previous, handmade and mass produced. “It’s humorous,” the artist told the New York Instances, “as a result of even glass blowers get confused about what I make and what I discover.”

Most of the colours of deadstock glass within the artist’s distinctive palette won’t ever be seen once more in business manufacturing, since they have been made solely by long-shuttered factories. Cowan embeds the vanishing producers’ names for the hues (and for collectible figurines) into her titles. The jungly “Bittersweet, River, and Milk” (2023) incorporates a milk-glass sweet dish spewing tendrils in a sunny orange referred to as “bittersweet,” a coloration L.E. Smith Glass Co. produced within the Sixties and ’70s. A trio of pale pink sculptures — “Candelabra in Shell” (2023), “Cornucopia in Shell” (2021), and “Fountain in Shell” (2019) — that appear to ooze and drip reference “shell pink,” a coloration made by Jeannette Glass Firm in 1958 and ’59, throughout a post-World Conflict II period when pinks surged in popularity, a refreshing distinction to the military greens and browns utilized in designs for warfare efforts.

Collectively, Cowan’s up to date artworks, and the classic artifacts displayed alongside them on this present, illuminate a slice of historical past — the rise and fall of American manufacturing facility manufacturing and ever-changing American tastes and types — in addition to the enduring potentialities of glass.

Artist Amber Cowan scours the nation to seek out cullet, manufacturing scraps from glass factories
Amber Cowan, “Melanie Strolling Snail With Cart,” (2023), glass, 26 x 22 x 3 1/2 inches
Vintage blue-and-white coated dishes from Amber Cowan’s private assortment
Amber Cowan, “Cornucopia in Shell” (2021), glass, 8 x 5 1/2 x 4 inches
Amber Cowan, “Artwork Nude Cascade in Jade” (2023), glass
Amber Cowan, “Willie the Mouse With Prepare and Tractor” (2023), glass, 25 x 19 x 10 inches

Alchemy of Adornment continues on the Museum of American Glass (1501 Glasstown Street, Millville, New Jersey) by means of December 31. The exhibition was organized by WheatonArts.


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