Transforming Tradition: Innovations in Contemporary Glass


Edited by Hallie Meredith and Miranda Phelan

The medium of glass has been in use since the dawn of civilization. Glass is versatile, it can be worked hot or carved cold. An array of color possibilities exist as well as a variety of uses. It is considered both an art and a craft, with those who work with it both artists and craftsmen. Some adhere to methods which have been in use since the medium’s early history, while others are constantly looking for new techniques. The versatility of glass has allowed a unique culture to develop around the medium with innovations and traditions existing synergistically.

This digital exhibition focuses on glass’ traditions and innovations, throughout its history and into the present day. As a class, we have researched glass’ transition from an industrial material to a true art form, its reliance on culture and nature, as well as case studies focusing on a color blind artist’s innovative contribution to contemporary glass and the glass world’s interest in aquatic themes as a subject matter.

This website is the result of a semester of lectures, research and critical reading by students studying the history of art at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth in Spring 2015. The course, Making: An Art Historical Approach, focuses on glass art from ancient to contemporary times. Unfortunately, glass blowing is not offered to students, so this class offers access to an entirely unfamiliar and intriguing medium as well as the cultures in which it exists and grows. The first half of the semester focused on acquiring an understanding of the history of glass art, including techniques and regional, historical traditions and variations. The second half of the semester was devoted to the development and eventual creation of this website. Undergraduate students were divided into four groups, each of which chose a topic and question to investigate. The results were two broader themes and two related case studies. The four projects created by the students are: From Industry to Art, Innovations in Color Blindness, Culture and Nature, and Waves of Contemporary Art. The broad topics survey important issues in the glass world, and the case studies hone in on individual facets of the wider themes.

Perhaps the single most important development in the history of glass was the discovery of glass blowing. The bubble is central to each of the themes explored in this digital exhibition. From the manufacturing of vessels in ancient Rome, to Kerrick Johnson’s organic forms, glass art begins with the deceptively simple bubble. The discovery of glass blowing was crucial to the transformation of glass into a commercial medium. This set events in motion for glass to become the widely used material it is today. This technique is the origin for almost all glass art. In this sense, all glass art begins with a bubble.

Glass blowing demonstration with William Gudenrath, the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY, accessed 29th April 2015

This site was researched, written and designed by:
Adrien Mercier
Betsey Janus
Gabrielle Sullivan
Hailey Meiggs
Jamie McCann
Katie Medeiros
Kelsey Rabbitt
Miranda Phelan
Nicole Swanson
Nicole Zaun
Rea Bethel
Ryan Nunes
Tyler Lewis

Special thanks:
Allison Cywin, Curator of the Visual Resources Center and Librarian, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Davey Thomas of A3MG Diana Carns, Assistant Curator of the Visual Resources Center, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Dr. Michael F. Thomas