by Andrew Page
When New York Times art critic Holland Cotter reviewed the 2002 Whitney Biennial, he placed Judith Schaechter’s stained-glass panel Bigtop Flophouse Bedspins (2001) in the category of “alternative forms of religiosity.” The passed-out jester figure in the foreground may well be having visions, but more the hallucinatory variety brought on by mind-altering substances than any metaphysical rapture. Still, Cotter was onto something about Schaechter’s work: She mines the power of stained glass and its associations with the sacred to unexpected ends—here finding in debauchery some kind of transcendence, wringing a certain pathos out of the parallels between the exalted and the laid-low.
As we discover in this issue’s cover article, Schaechter’s life and work are replete with unexpected turns and jarring juxtapositions. She started out as a painting student, but sought refuge from the intimidating blank canvas in the laborious craft of stained glass. When rendering imagery from her sketchbooks in translucent glass, she discovered aesthetic nitroglycerin in the meshing of the exalted and the grotesque. On the occasion of a major midcareer museum retrospective at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, we present a closer look at her remarkable life and work, as well as insights from the exhibition’s organizing curator, Jessica Marten.
Contributing editor John Drury explores a different body of work that delivers an equally edgy aesthetic. Brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre have been collaborating on cross-cultural mosaics drawn from religious, commercial, and political iconography, now adding lenticular elements to surpass their prior riotous intensity. Fixing their sights on the divisive political moment, they translate visual cacophony into a celebration of shared human experience.
Also referencing Mexican culture but with a very different approach are Jaime Guerrero’s blown-glass character studies, which draw on his experiences as a Mexican-American growing up in inner-city Los Angeles. A first-generation American citizen whose parents immigrated to the U.S., his work comments on migrant detentions, with great empathy for the families ensnared by the Trumpian political moment’s costly undertow.
Since her glass apprenticeship in her teenage years, Sally Prasch has explored the material both as a laboratory glassblower and as an artist. Shane Fero discusses Prasch’s dual roles in a feature article, timed to her being honored as featured artist at the 2020 International Flameworking Conference in March.
And finally, regular contributor Alexander Castro surveys glass artists for how they reconcile their work in the energy-hungry medium of glass with a changing climate, noting both how practices are being adapted to be more energy-efficient as well as how glass art has a unique potential to raise awareness of catastrophic climate change and inspire change.