by Andrew Page
Working with glass can be hot, heavy, and dangerous, and yet at the heart of almost every silica-based endeavor is a potential for whimsy. Blame the unpredictable nature of glass, its plasticity, or its fluidity, but the starting point of any glass project is an infinity of possible outcomes. This near-ridiculous potential to become anything at all brings out a distinctly capricious side. In this issue, different kinds of playfulness are at work in every feature article.
Even though the Blaschka invertebrates on the cover were made as objects for serious study, and relied upon by university students eager to understand the creatures in the sea, the Blaschkas were not divers themselves, and thus, as the article’s author and experienced scuba diver William Warmus points out, had to imagine how the examples pulled from the deep would have appeared far below the surface. One of the Blaschkas’ many miraculous gifts as flameworkers was their ability to imbue the creatures they duplicated, be they flowers or sea creatures, with convincingly lifelike qualities. This flowed from their creative ability to speculate on what organic forms would look like in their natural habitat, which took as much imagination as formal examination. In this way, these serious objects are fueled, in part, by artistic flights of fancy.
To a much greater degree, imagination is the source of contemporary artist Kimberly Thomas's inspiration for her striking assemblages of flameworked elements. Like magical storybook scenes, her works are the product of the artist’s disparate strands of career history in special effects, pipemaking, and ceramics, all coming together to create absolutely original works in glass that look like they could be made from metal, clay, or anything but silica. Endless experimentation into surface textures has allowed Thomas to achieve a mix of the believable and fantastical that, as author Kinshasa Peterson observes, become invitations to fly away from the everyday into a richer world.
Alabama-born Stephen Rolfe Powell (1951-2019) was known for his outlandish blown-glass vessels, festooned with riots of colorful murrine that were as dazzling as the artist’s charismatic personality when he inspired people to follow an ambitious idea and make it happen. Contributing editor William Ganis looks at the expansive legacy of Powell that lives on in his longtime home of Danville, Kentucky, where everything from a new museum to multiple public art projects keep alive Rolfe’s fantastical vision of what is possible.
And rounding out the features, there’s Dick Marquis’s unmatched virtuosity in murrine, which he applied to outlandish forms of his own invention. There’s almost an inverse relationship between the delicacy and difficulty in Marquis’s achievements and the fanciful forms he created, such as wizard hats, toy race cars, and yes, teapots with spouts that hearken back to the Middle Ages, or, for those who prefer pop culture, to Disney’s animation in Beauty and the Beast. Marquis’s works wear whimsy like a disguise, as if to keep the work from becoming overly fussy as he plays with glass form and surface, bringing his unique brand of subversive humor to the party.