Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fired Up: Glass by Women Artists and Music on Glass by Rela Percussion

At the TMA's Glass Pavilion with friend Jud for Fired Up: Contemporary Glass by Women Artists.
Every time I've been at the Fired Up exhibit at TMA's Glass Pavilion I see something new, something extraordinary.  This time, along with my Peace Corps friend Jud, who was visiting from DC, I saw another layer of  beauty in the art of bringing an image to life in glass.  While the larger pieces stood out on my first visits, like Josepha Gasch-Muche's Pyramid  (German) and Karen LaMonte's Dress Impression (American), this time the little pieces sparkled.  Incredible shapes, colors, use of different materials, tremendous technical innovations, all fused into remarkable art, all catching the light in magical ways.

It's fitting that the Toledo Museum of Art organized this exhibit, and that it's staying up for several months. Afterall, the Studio Art Glass Movement began here. Toledo was the incubator of a new worldwide art movement, truly "the glass city."  In its earliest decades, however, this Movement "dealt with the same sexism that plagued the art world in other areas; women artists faced an uphill battle in their demand for fair recognition of their contributions and their work." (All quotations from TMA artMatters magazine, Sept.-Dec. 2017)

Fired Up features 50 stunning objects showcasing the women who now rank among the most creative and celebrated glass artists in history.

The exhibit draws from the Toledo Museum of Art's renowned glass collection, precious pieces that seemed hidden from view for many years, along with items from personal collections. When my children and I visited TMA in the 1970s and early 80s we loved Dominick Labino's pioneering glass panels that served as the entryway into the fascinating world of glass. But women glass artists? No, I don't remember any.

The Fired Up exhibit changes that. It's easy to see what enormous contributions women from around the world have made to the  movement. The exhibit focuses with laser clarity on "the art that helped women forge a path in the male-dominated Studio Glass Movement of the 1960s to the ingenuity of 21st-century innovations."

 "Their art documents almost six decades of underappreciated influence." (TMA magazine)

A glass artist teaches students
of all ages the art of  glassmaking.
After the exhibit and some lunch at the cafe, delicious beef and mushroom soup, Jud and I went to a glass-making demonstration, which the museum offers daily.  Popular and well-attended, they have engaged thousands of people in the complex process and challenges of using intense heat to shape beautiful glass. The women artists who led this particular demonstration were amazing--physical, creative, confident, a perfectly synchronized team. We watched intently as they created a lovely snowman out of glass, replete with buttons, a nose, a hat and scarf.  The snowman was safely" broken off the pipe" (in the parlance of the craft), paraded in front of the audience to enthusiastic applause, and put away to cool. We left the museum in awe. The demonstrations and classes were still going strong when we returned to the Glass Pavilion that evening.

It was a last minute decision. As I prepared dinner, ads for a concert by a group called Rela Percussion popped into my head.  I asked Jud if he wanted to go back to the museum to hear them. Fortunately, he was as eager to do it as I was, even though we had no idea who they were or what kind of performance it would be. We hastily finished our dinner, bundled up, and took off into a freezing seven-degree snowy night.

What an amazing evening of music and glass it turned out to be, like nothing we had ever experienced before. We were mesmerized as four talented young musicians (who met at Central Michigan music school) started playing on marimbas, a rippling, tingling sound that transported, and then moved gracefully like dancers to playing their soft mallets on a variety of exquisite and colorful fluted bowls, vases, plate glass gongs, goblets, and various art pieces.

We heard the sounds of glass for the first time in new ways: mysterious crackling sounds, harmonic or dissonant riffs, the sounds of bells maybe, or of xylophone, marimbas, pipes, African udu drums and various other drums. I learned later that there is such a thing as a glass marimba, so it might be more natural than I thought to move from playing on a glass marimba to playing on real glass. That's the magic of Rela Percussion, the most innovative fusion of glass and music imaginable. 

The piece was called "Glass Cathedral" and it's four "movements" were taken from the four key elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Jud and I were grateful to have a handout explaining the music. We couldn't tell when one movement ended and another began, of course, but we sure were drawn into the unique, eerie, ethereal and unusual sounds.  It felt like we were in a New York City avant garde venue listening to music of the future, music made out of glass, the sounds of glass, the sounds of angels perhaps.

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