A little over a year ago, there was a lot of excitement here at the studio. Squam River Studios was busy preparing, along with our partners, Dr. Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine, a father and son team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for our first show. This show was the fruition of a relationship started years earlier at Pilchuck Glass School when Shandra was the printshop coordinator. During her last stint working in the printshop, she had the chance to work with the Demaines, when they were artists in residence. That meeting set the stage for a friendship and several collaborations, including this one. The exhibition, Intersection: Art and Science, at the Edward Gallery in Holderness, New Hampshire was a great success and cemented the artistic bonds between Shandra and the Demaines.
The chance to work with the Demaines was an eye opener for Shandra, as she became deeply interested in the relationship between art and science. Marty is an artist and mathematician. He started the first private hot glass studio in Canada and has been called the father of Canadian glass. Since 2005, he has been the Angelika and Barton Weller Artist-in-Residence in MIT EECS. Marty works with his son Erik, a Guggenheim Fellow (along with his father), a MacArthur Fellow and the youngest professor in the history of MIT, in paper, glass, and other material. They use their exploration in sculpture to help visualize and understand unsolved problems in mathematics, and their scientific abilities to inspire new art forms. Their artistic work includes curved origami sculptures in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and the Renwick Gallery in the Smithsonian. After the show at the Edwards, the conversation between Shandra and the Demaines continued and thoughts of exploring vitreography (Shandra’s first artistic love) and hot glass, both an art and a science emerged.
What was born from those dinner-time conversations at Shandra’s farm overlooking Cardigan Mountain in New Hampshire was an inspired idea that payed homage to the founders of the vitreographic and studio glass movements in this country. What if you combined mediums – screen printing and hot glass in it most basic form? Thus began an experimentation that has presented Shandra and our studio with two amazing opportunities – a piece featured in Tier 1 of the Pilchuck Glass School Annual Auction and an upcoming residency at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.
The idea was simple but the execution was a bit trickier. We spent many days in Boston at the MIT Glass Lab with the Demaines and Peter Houk, working out how best to tackle this idea. An image was carefully screened onto the marvering table (for those not familiar with glass work, this is the table that you see glass blowing artists rolling the hot glass on) and the hot glass was then rolled onto the image. The glass was then carefully blown into the preferred shape. It took several tries before we were able to have a successful printing and blowing but what was produced was more than a vessel- it was a feeling of excitement that can only be felt when a theory becomes something more tangible.
In December of 2013, Harvey Littleton, considered the one of the founders of the studio glass movement in the United States and a talented printmaker, passed away. Shandra had long been a student of Littleton’s print work and had studied his work extensively at Pilchuck. Knowing that a call for entries was forthcoming for the Pilchuck Glass School Annual Auction, Shandra began conceptualizing a new piece utilizing the new technique she had explored with the Demaines – a concept which would become The Littleton Tree. The project was a major experiment in which printmaking engaged with glassblowing. Executed at the MIT Glass Lab by Shandra, Marty and Erik, again with the assistance of Peter Houk, The Littleton Tree was inspired by the historical roots of Pilchuck as a tree farm and the color palette was chosen as they bring to mind the quiet but stimulating natural surroundings at the school – the green of the trees, the oranges of the sunset and the blues of water. The image that was screened onto the hot glass was a graphical rendition of the cells in the rings of a Douglas Fir Tree. It was Shandra’s intention that by combining mediums in an unexpected and modern way, a piece would be produces that illuminates its surroundings and invites refection. It was her goal that The Littleton Tree would stand as a memorial and as an inspiration for the future direction of collaboration in studio glass. We submitted this piece to the auction and were delighted to be accepted. The invitation for the auction arrived here at the studio a few days ago. If you are in the Seattle area in late October, tickets are still available to be a part of this wonderful evening of art for a good cause.
Following on the heels of the creation of The Littleton Tree, Shandra and I had long conversations about how best to present this technique to the larger glass community. She was passionate that the experimentation that she had participated in with Marty and Erik should become a platform for other artists to jump off of and create new and exciting glass work. She felt strongly that we should contact the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. After visiting the Museum’s website and seeing that they are always actively seeking visiting artists, Shandra, Rachael and I worked together with input from the Demaines to put together a proposal to teach the screen printing on hot glass in the Hot Shop at the Museum. It was perhaps our most thrilling moment to date at the studio to get word that the Museum wanted us to come as visiting artists. We will be there in the Hot Shop from November 12 – November 16. It will be shown live on the Hot Shop live feed – so our friends far and wide can see what we are up to. It was like cherry on a sundae to discover just the other day that we are now on the MOG’s website on the Calendar of Events.
So once again we are busy; putting together a presentation, gathering materials and honing up techniques – we are definitely bringing our new technique to show but we also will be bringing some other new experiments too. From the grand and colorful mountains of New Hampshire to the green halls of Pilchuck and onwards to the industrial-like working environment of the hot glass lab at MIT, it has been a positively exhilarating year here at Squam River Studios.
Until next time,
Sarah – Creative Director