Thursday, January 18, 2024

Harvey Littleton, Glass Artist



I started collecting art a few years ago when I realized art marries two of my central interests. Of course art has aesthetic qualities (e.g., beauty, innovation) but it also possesses something else: history. Works of art are like modern archaeological artifacts: objects that tell stories. Stories about the artists who created the pieces, stories about the culture in which they were conceived, and stories about the passage of time and perspective. 

Focusing on art of the last century, as I do, means these works address recent life and consider people either alive or shortly-departed. This is much different, much more accessible and more interesting (to me) than art from ancient or medieval times. Artists like Lino Tagliapietra (1934-) who are still alive -- and willing to dine with me -- and artists like Stanislav Libensk√Ĺ (1921-2002) and Jaroslava Brychtov√° (1924-2020), whose many students and followers were influenced and are carrying forward themes and techniques of their work, are fascinating. Stories to learn and tell.

I just acquired a new work that similarly sates my hunger for history: glass art made in 1983 by famous artist Harvey Littleton (1922-2013). Harvey is an important, intriguing character. He was born in Corning (where the world-famous Corning Museum of Glass [CMOG] is located) and was the son of the scientist who headed R&D at Corning Glass Works (a huge company that did groundbreaking research on industrial and commercial applications for glass. The company also founded and continues to support CMOG.) Harvey was encouraged by his father to go into science but like many children wanted to explore a different path; Harvey chose art. 

At first Harvey was an educator, teaching about glass in several universities. He promoted glass art and taught many later-famous artists like Dale Chiluly. Harvey retired from teaching in 1976 to devote his full attention to making work in glass. He worked steadily from then until his death in 2013 at age 91. Four of Harvey's adult children work in the field of glass art.

Harvey is often referred to as the "Father of the Studio Glass Movement," a title worth respecting. During his lifetime Harvey saw glass art change from one type of practice to another and he had a big hand in influencing that shift. Chronicling Harvey's whole role is far beyond this short summary; you can find details of it elsewhere (e.g., Wikipedia).

It was during Harvey's immersion in art-making that he produced the work I purchased. He was then in his sixties. A private collector acquired the work from an art gallery and enjoyed it for four decades. Now, that sole collector is parting with the object to a new caretaker: me. I'm inheriting a piece of history to enjoy for as long as I walk the planet. Then it will pass to the next caretaker. 

We care for art in our hands; we don't "own" it. Not having participated in the work's creation we have no right to claim ownership, just a privilege to hold it for a while. I don't subscribe to the popular but fallacious notion that artwork is merely chattel, property we can buy and sell like widgets. Artwork is special -- a gift to humanity, as Harvard scholar Lewis Hyde wrote -- and occupies a different place in our mental and social worlds. Coincidentally Hyde wrote his book ("The Gift") the same year that my new artwork was created (1983).

When this and my other works are ready for display I'll invite you over. The price of admission will be having to listen to me tell the stories the artworks possess.

11 comments:

  1. I love seeing original art, and I'm also a lover of blown glass - thanks for sharing your passion with us, Ally!

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    1. You're welcome, pal. Thanks for your interest.

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  2. That's SO exciting to be the new caretaker of the piece!! And something so important to the history of that medium! Wow!!
    I would love to get up close to a piece of art like that.
    You are the right person for the job!!
    Kezzie xx

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    1. Thanks, Kezzie. Sometimes objects have mysterious power and none more so than those made of glass. It's an inherently magical material, capable of literally bending light and vision.

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  3. With all the info and hype I'm disappointed we don't get at least a peek. Your art collection is growing!

    Suzanne

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    1. I understand and share that frustration. Problem is: I can't see well enough to take photographs. Sorry.

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  4. I absolutely get why you find 20th Century glass so fascinating. Although I do not collect them, I'm having the same fascination for those sculptures in Middelheim Sculpture Park created by 20th Century artists. 4
    Thank you for introducing Harvey Littleton!
    I do agree with Suzanne, though, that I would have liked a peek at your newest acquisition :-) xxx

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    1. See my response to her for explanation. And I like that you're thinking of a man who's deceased: it's a way of keeping his contribution to humanity alive.

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  5. Harvey was an innovator! Thank you for sharing his story with us- and it's so cool you have a piece of his.

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

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    1. Yup. Hope your new year is starting well, Ashley.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this, Ally! I hope to see your collection someday and get a proper art lecture from you!

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