By Emma Castleberry
A new exhibit highlighting the important role of North Carolina in the nationwide studio glass movement will open on Saturday, June 2, at 14 Riverside Drive. “This historical incubator has cultivated a thriving community of glass makers and supporting organizations,” says Kari Rinn, executive director of the North Carolina Glass Center. “A new generation has been fostered and is taking the medium to new levels. Glass has a past, present and future that lives here in the mountains of WNC.”
The first instance of glass blowing by individuals happened in Toledo, Ohio, in 1962. This was the first time the craft had been available to artists outside of a factory setting. By 1965, the trend had traveled to North Carolina and Penland School of Crafts had its own hot glass studio on campus. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a number of talented glass artists relocated to this region to practice their craft, including Rick Beck, Gary Beecham, Billy Bernstein, Rob Levin, Harvey Littleton, John Littleton, Mark Peiser, Richard Ritter and Kate Vogel. “As more people settled here, the glass community became its own kind of magnet, drawing in new people,” says curator Alysia Fischer, who completed oral history interviews with many of the region’s glass icons. “Many artists first came to North Carolina as students or instructors at Penland and then were enticed to stay due to the natural beauty and low cost of living. Others came because Harvey Littleton, widely considered the founder of the studio glass movement, relocated to Spruce Pine in 1976.”
North Carolina and the Studio Glass Movement will use photographs, films and stories to carry visitors through the region’s history of glass, and visitors will also have the opportunity to sit on Harvey Littleton’s personal glass-blowing bench and take photos. The exhibit is intended to provide a context for the collaborative, area-wide celebration of glass art, Summer of Glass, that commenced in May with the opening of Chihuly at Biltmore. “Many people don’t realize how much of an impact this region has had on glass art throughout the world,” says Hayden Wilson, a Summer of Glass committee member who helped Fischer with research for the exhibit. “With one of the highest concentrations of glass artists per capita, Western North Carolina has established itself as a hub for glass art. I hope people will walk away from this exhibit with a new appreciation and perspective of this region’s rich glass history.”
North Carolina and the Studio Glass Movement will run through October 31. Fourteen Riverside Drive is located in the Asheville’s River Arts District. For more information, visit summerofglass.com.