Head up the escalators in the Courtyard Lobby to the West Bridge and you’ll be met with six cases of vases, perfume bottles, platters, and sculptures. These colorful and exquisite examples of early Studio Glass from 1971 to 1982 are recent gifts from Ennion Society members Paul and Elmerina Parkman. The Parkmans began collecting contemporary Studio Glass more than 40 years ago, and have been involved with The Corning Museum of Glass for almost as long.
The couple began collecting after Paul’s mother passed away and left them several pieces of antique glass. They started to research the glass and, in the process, fell in love with contemporary glass.
The 24 works in the Parkmans’ 2016 donation, which are joined by Harvey Littleton’s Blue Twist donated in 2015, provide a snapshot of the earliest days of the Studio Glass movement. During this period, artists were just beginning to learn how to work directly with hot glass. As they honed their glassblowing skills, early Studio Glass artists experimented with color and new ways to manipulate hot glass such as cutting, pinching, and stretching. The objects in the Parkmans’ gift showcase the diversity of these approaches. Particularly notable among this group—and just in time for Women’s History Month—are several works by women artists.
“The Parkman’s gift provides an incredible record of the very earliest days of Studio Glass. The objects nearly vibrate with the energy of the movement,” said Susie Silbert, curator of modern and contemporary glass. “I’m particularly happy to add the work of female artists such as Pauline Solven, Patricia Esch and Nancy Freeman to our collection. None of these women were represented in the collection before and their inclusion demonstrates the diversity of the field from its earliest inception.”
Looking like a spring flower getting ready to burst into bloom, Suellen Fowler’s sleek perfume bottle is inspired by the simplicity of the Art Deco movement. Fowler has blown and sculpted glass for more than 35 years. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, students were experimenting with expanding the range of and improving the quality of borosilicate glass. Over the course of her career, Fowler has devoted much time and energy to developing and refining various oxide formulas to color borosilicate glass. She is also a regular teacher at The Studio.
The inverted teardrop shape of Nancy Freeman’s green vase makes its gold and blue swirls look as if they were dripping off. Based in the Catskill Mountains of New York, Freeman apprenticed with glassblower Henry Summa in the early 1970s. Though she closed her studio in the late 1980s, Freeman’s work is part of several museum and private collections. Notably, Vice President Mondale’s wife chose Freeman’s stemware for the permanent collection of the U.S. Vice-Presidential Residence in the late 1970s.
Pauline Solven’s blown and applied glass bowl alludes to spring flowers blooming and their ephemeral nature. Born in Great Britain, Solven studied glass at the Royal College of Art, London, where a small furnace had been set up by Sam Herman, a former student of Harvey Littleton’s. Herman eventually asked Solven to manage The Glasshouse, the first place in England where the public could watch glass artists at work in the studios.
Patricia Esch’s transparent blue vase looks like the front of a ruffled blouse. Only fresh flowers would make the ensemble complete. In the 1960s, Esch studied under Harvey Littleton at the University of Wisconsin. After moving to Denver to set up a studio, Esch was a studio glassblower until 1974, when she sold her equipment and returned to Wisconsin to work as a pastry chef. She continues to make art as a hobby and her work has been exhibited around the world.
Along with those four highlights, the Parkman Collection display also features several works by Dominick Labino (don’t miss his Starfish vase), Charles Lotton (his iridescent vases are gorgeous), Art Reed’s lovely “floriform” vase, amongst others.
Special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Parkman for their dedication to collecting contemporary glass and their generosity to the Museum. Be sure to visit the Parkman Collection before it closes on September 10, and visit Modern Glass section of the 35 Centuries of Glass gallery and the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family Gallery of Contemporary Glass to see more examples of studio glass.