When Kathleen Mulcahy and husband Ron Desmett founded the Pittsburgh Glass Center in 2001, Desmett, then a painter and ceramist, had never made glass work of his own before. That changed in 2002 when Mulcahy tasked artists from other materials to “think in glass,” as she told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet, for a show at the Glass Center called "Artists Crossing Lines." Ron came back with the decision to blow opaque black glass vessels shaped inside hollowed out tree trunks, a body of work that would come to define his practice until his death in December 2016. “[Glass] changed his life,” she said, “and from that moment where he thought about that work in 2002 – that work is the work that is in the Tacoma Museum [of Glass], the Smithsonian, and the Corning Museum, and the Carnegie Museum. It’s unbelievable – that moment of saying guess what, nothing is impossible.”
After Desmett died of cancer in December 2016, Mulcahy decided she needed to give this opportunity to others, to use her late husband’s legacy to inspire others to reach for the same heights. “It’s for other artists, that to me is always the key,” she told the Hot Sheet in a telephone interview, “how do we grow artists, how do we give them that boost to keep going, how do we nurture them, and one way is through the facility at the Glass Center. But the other way is through support, and that’s what we want to do with this.” With this hope, Mulcahy, along with Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Glass Center Heather McElwee and others, have created the Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass. The award will be funded through the Ron Desmett Artist Fund, which is currently working to raise the money required to make this vision a reality.
“We want to support artists who work in the spirit of Ron,” Mulcahy said. Mulcahy and McElwee have created a four-pronged approach to the award: supporting artistically promising youth in financial need, emerging artists who are “thinking outside the box and taking risks,” artists coming from another material who would like to work in glass, and writers thinking critically about work in glass. “Our idea is that we want to move the dialog of art in the way that Ron was thinking about it; he was somebody that challenged norms, thought outside the box, took risks, tried things that were completely unique. Sometimes people would look at his work and say ‘that doesn’t look like glass,’ and I think he reveled in that, that someone could approach it and just have never seen anything like that before.” You can hear Desmett explain his unique perspective on glass and artistic process in the video below:
A memorial service will be held at Pittsburgh Glass Center today, Friday, August 11th, to commemorate the late artist, husband, and founder of the Glass Center (which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year). The service, taking place on the date of Mulcahy and Desmett’s anniversary, will have “about 15 speakers and about 150 people coming,” Mulcahy said. It will include a showing of the video above and feature Desmett’s last body of work, from a show at Alfstad&Contemporary of Sarasota, Florida, which he completed just before his death. His work is currently on display in a group exhibition at the Eerie Art Museum that was co-curated by Mulcahy and McElwee.
There is much to celebrate in Desmett, who Pittsburgh-based curator and critic (and GLASS contributor) Vicky Clark called “a true mensch,” and many of the artist’s friends and supporters are “coalescing around this moment of creating a legacy for Ron,” according to Mulcahy. She is confident that through the award, this legacy will go on to make a difference in artist’s lives. “It’s going to be something powerful that keeps going way into the future after we’re gone.” Donations to the Ron Desmett Artist Fund can be made here.