Reflections on Glass
Contemporary sculpture exhibit hosts an unusual medium
William Carlson with his sculpture. Another one of his works is in the background. On exhibit through September 18, 2016.
Photos by Cassandra Sohn
Tom Patti has spent many hours walking the grounds of Chesterwood, the former Stockbridge residence of sculptor Daniel Chester French. The grounds are beautiful, lush with flora and boasting outdoor garden “rooms.” But Patti, a Pittsfield native and veteran sculptural-glass artist and scientist (he has served as a technical consultant for Corning and other companies), was most interested in the movement of light across the property.
“The path of the sun is my reference for siting my work,” he says. “The earth and the sky are the two elements that are fundamental to the particular site. Working with a reflective surface, the viewer sees themselves in the work. Motion is recorded, stillness is recorded.”
Patti is one of 12 artists showing his work in Chesterwood’s 38th annual contemporary sculpture exhibit. “The Nature of Glass: Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood 2016” is one of the few outdoor glass exhibits in the country—maybe the world—according to curator Jim Schantz of Schantz Galleries in Stockbridge. And it was a long time in the making. It began with a trip to Seattle with Chesterwood executive director Donna Hassler to take in the vibrant glass community there. “Donna asked if it was even possible to do this,” Schantz says. When Hassler saw what was going on in Seattle, largely due to the influence of Dale Chihuly, arguably the nation’s most prolific glass sculptor, she was sold. The challenge was finding the artists and creating a monumental show.
For previous sculpture exhibitions, Chesterwood would put out a call for entries, which would often yield at least 75 to 100 slides and bios that needed to be culled. It was a laborious process, says Hassler. “We started going towards more curated exhibits and that’s when I reached out to Jim.”
This is Schantz’s first outdoor exhibit, but his years of vetting and curating the work of glass artists from around the globe have given him an inherent knowledge of what works and what doesn’t—glass-wise. “The Nature of Glass” took more than a year to put together. Several of the contributing artists, some of whom have never created a work to be presented in the elements, visited the Chesterwood property to get a feel for what they were up against.
“For some sculptors, it was a challenge to create an outdoor piece for the first time,” Schantz says. “It was an adjustment just seeing it outdoors. A mind-opening adventure for me and for the artists. Frankly, it is brave for all of us.”
The 24 works are in fact quite brave, and monolithic, delicate, and introspective. A ten-foot-high glass tree made from actual casted bark, two-foot-wide glass orbs representing the elements, granite and aqua glass torsos that look like figures pulled directly from Easter Island—these are just some of the sculptures that grace the property. Having sculpture on the grounds was a longstanding tradition of Daniel Chester French, according to Hassler. “French usually had his own sculptures and sculptures by his friends placed outside,” she says. “He inspired other artists to show their work in this setting. He curated the land.”
Cranes, heavy machinery, trucks, and a ton of manpower were necessary to place the pieces around the 122-acre property. Veteran grounds superintendent Gerard Blache, although very familiar with the ins and outs of sculpture exhibitions on the property, says that this is the first time he has dealt with glass pieces. He and his crew had to prepare each sculpture site, often with the help of the artists, so that the ground was level and the landscape (which appears in many of the reflective surfaces) was “textural and had the right light,” according to the sculptors’ wishes. Blache received many detailed blueprints with precise dimensions, including the angles at which pieces should be placed in relation to the land and the sun. “It was a little nerve-wracking,” Blache says. “But fortunately, Tom Patti brought me up to speed on the modern standards, and strength, of glass. I am amazed by its capabilities.”
“I wake up in the middle of the night. There’s always a crisis mode before a show,” says William Carlson. “Sometimes I like to make simple things hard. Spontaneity is out for this kind of work.”
Carlson, who lives in Sandisfield, has two pieces in the exhibit. Sine Nomine (loosely translated as “without a name”) is an 11-foot-high metal and glass structure. The metal forms an X in the middle, “the universal symbol for the unknown.” His second piece, Vetro Muralis, is comprised of glass tiles partially embedded in granite. Each of the two sections weighs about a ton. “The granite gives it a sense of place. It is a powerful reference. It is forever,” says Carlson. “The glass tiles are each textured and they interlock. The common area of overlap creates a visual noise. It is more musical and creates a linguistic rhythm. The stuff is so seductive.”
Schantz admits that curating an exhibition of this scale is markedly different from placing portable works on pristine pedestals under perfectly angled track lighting, all within the enclosed security of a gallery.
“Glass as a medium is generally seen as delicate, breakable,” Schantz says. “When you think about it, a majority of our skyscrapers are glass. Artists who are engineering these pieces are using tempered glass and coated glass. It’s like steel. The whole point is to get you to look at glass differently.”
Adds Patti: “No one will see the same thing. There are infinite possibilities.”