Thursday August 17, 2023 | by John Drury

IN MEMORIAM: Outsider artist Robert Blackstone (1971 - 2023), whose Crystal City installation is a visionary portrait of Dayton, Ohio, falls victim to the city's gun violence

Even before the COVID pandemic, Dayton, Ohio, was known as one of the top 5 deadliest U.S. cities, as CBS designated it in 2019. On August 1st, 2023, one of the most important artists to try and capture the spirit and energy of this complex Ohio city was gunned down on a downtown street. Robert Blackstone, the self-taught installation artist who worked extensively with glass, was grievously injured by a gunshot wound to his chest, and he died from his injuries. The alleged shooter, who has a long criminal record, is in custody.

In the Summer 2019 print edition of Glass (#155), I wrote about Blackstone’s Crystal City, an expansive installation he composed
over several decades and in ever-expanding versions. The article made the case for support when the work was losing its longtime home, and it was successfully moved (and expanded) at its current location at the corner of Second and Ludlow streets.

Blackstone's installations using repurposed glass (and other objects) are among the most important to come out of Dayton in many decades. His magnum opus is Crystal City, a plea for societal unity, equality, and the fair treatment of all individuals, a gift to his native city offered in love, respect, and hope that the city might heal from its racially-charged history of riots and conflict.

Crystal City stands among the work of other self-taught luminaries such as William Hawkins, Elijah Pierce, “Birdie” Lusch, and Grandpa “Smoky” Brown (another Dayton native), at the apex of the self-taught artists to emerge from the Buckeye state and gain a national profile. Blackstone leaves behind many who will suffer his absence, most poignantly his four children.

JOHN DRURY, a New York City-based artist, author, and independent curator, is a contributing editor to Glass.

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.