When the Nave Museum asked Eric Hess to exhibit some of his pieces, the glass artist decided to tackle something much more ambitious: unearthing and compiling the history of contemporary glass in Texas.
“There really hadn’t been anything where we’ve put together the work starting with Robert Willson from the 1950s and up to today,” says Hess, who curated the “Texas Contemporary Glass Exhibition” currently on display through September 17 at the Nave Museum in Victoria. The exhibit, which features the work of 22 Texas artists, showcases contemporary glass works that range from sand casting and neon to vitreography (engraved glass printing) and Pâte de Verre kilncasting.
Glass artists point to Willson (1912-2000) as the father of the American studio glass art movement in Texas, which was basically nonexistent in the state due to a lack of furnaces to blow glass. In order to make his solid glass sculptures, the Mertzon-born UT-Austin graduate had to travel to Murano, Italy, located in a Venice lagoon, to sculpt work that has been on display at the Venice Biennale, San Antonio Museum of Art and the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.
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From there, Hess explains, artists started opening glass art studios in Austin and Arlington in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Beeville emerged as a scene that was forwarded by Jayne Duryea at Coastal Bend College. Though Houston was a bit late to the game, local artists started opening glass studios in the 1980s; the work of Houston-based mixed-media sculptor Michael Crowder is included in “Texas Contemporary Glass.”
“A lot of people think glass art is blown bowls and functional artwork,” says Hess, who teaches at the art department at the University of Texas at Arlington. “It’s only been in the last 20 years that it has been in the fine arts realm.”
Hess says that the show, which is co-curated by Bob McKnight and includes a comprehensive catalogue, will be archived by the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, the Tacoma Museum of Glass in Washington state, and the Chrysler Museum of Glass in Norfolk, Virginia, which are three of the country’s major glass museums.
“Texas Contemporary Glass Exhibition” continues noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through September 17 at the Nave Museum, 306 West Commercial in Victoria. For information, call 361-575-8227 or visit navemuseum.com. Admission is free.