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The Curator’s Eye

Inside Oakland Museum’s Playing With Fire exhibition.


To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the studio glass movement, Oakland Museum of California curator Julie Muñiz sought classic pieces to show how the movement evolved. She also sought pieces to illustrate the medium’s diverse magnificence.

“Glass is a magical, mesmerizing medium,” says Muñiz. “It can be beautiful, and it can be raw. It can look like metal, and it can look like water. I wanted to showcase this diversity and also to highlight pioneering artists together with next-generation artists.”  

In 1962, Harvey Littleton launched the movement in Wisconsin, when he organized the first workshops for studio glass artists. Two of Littleton’s students, first Marvin Lipofsky
and later Robert Fritz, brought
their talents to California shortly thereafter. Their work, along with that of their protégés, is featured in Muñiz’s exhibition.  

“As a curator, this has been a lot of fun. We’ve put together a nice mixture of young and old.”

Here is Muñiz’s personal take on Playing With Fire: Artists of the California Studio Glass Movement, now on display.


Projections in Tun Yee // Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California

Oben Abright

Projections in Tun Yee
Mold blown glass, cement, video, oil paint.

“Abright made this fascinating piece after a trip to Burma, where he met a monk, Tun Yee. Yee is haunted by the memory of a protest against a human rights violation: The protest started peacefully but turned violent. Abright created a mold of the monk, and then blew cast glass into the mold. He then used cement and applied oil paint to finish the sculpture, and projected a video into the transparent skull of the monk to convey the haunting memory of the violent protest. It’s a very powerful use of mixed media.”


Going My Way?

Jay Musler

Going My Way?
Constructed sandblasted glass with oil paint.

“Musler works out of an Oakland studio and has this very interesting technique to create sculpture. He takes shards of plate glass and applies oil paint to them. He fuses them, sometimes with heat and sometimes with epoxy, then builds the piece almost like a Lego construction.”


Living on Fault Lines and Pacific Currents

Mary White

Living on Fault Lines and Pacific Currents
Recycled glass, repurposed steel.

“Mary White works with recycled glass and found objects, and makes interesting commentary about recycling and the environment. Here, she has this gorgeous glass house balanced precariously, almost dangerously, atop a tricycle. She is definitely referring to California’s fault lines and how we are riding along on this dangerous path.
Glass was a very masculine art form in the early years. Mary White helped break through that [glass ceiling] a little bit: She took over the program at San Jose State University after Robert Fritz’s passing.”


Blue Orchid












Randy Strong

Blue Orchid
Blown assembled glass.

“Strong is a Berkeley artist who studied under Lipofsky. He’s become very well known for his current series and his comments about nature. Here, he creates all the petals of an orchid individually, then assembles them into a flower.”


Warrior (Owl)












Robert Fritz

Warrior (Owl)
Blown glass.
c. 1970

“Another pioneer, Fritz was an artist who tried applying chemical gas to the glass, creating this opalescent quality. I love this abstract owl; you see the work veering away from vases and blobs, and becoming a form of sculpture.”


Crazy Quilt CoffeepotRichard Marquis

Crazy Quilt Coffeepot
Blown millefiore glass.

“This is a beautiful piece. When you see the actual work, it’s tiny. Marquis received a Fulbright Scholarship to study glass, and he studied under Lipofsky at Cal. Marquis then went to study in Murano, Italy, where he learned the ancient technique of millefiore—an Italian word meaning ‘a thousand flowers.’ Marquis takes these little flowered shapes and then rolls molten glass over them, then blows the glass into shape. He has become well-known for this technique and uses it in most of his work.”


A Staining Reliquary: Enigmatic Memory













Michelle Knox

A Staining Reliquary: Enigmatic Memory
Blown glass and steel.

“Michelle Knox is part of the next generation of glass artists. She teaches classes at the Crucible. I love her pieces; they are beautiful to look at but also look at form in interesting ways. She is very interested in architecture and Islamic forms; you get a sense of that here in this piece, which is made from blowing smaller pieces and assembling them into this sculpture.”


Glass Form




Marvin Lipofsky

Glass Form
Blown glass into metal sculpture.

“Lipofsky is one of the pioneers in California; he established programs in glasswork at California College of the Arts and UC Berkeley. This piece is interesting because of its experimental nature. Lipofsky had this wire form and wondered what it would look like if he blew glass into it. The early years were experimental; the artists were learning about how to control the medium.”


Playing With Fire: Artists of the California Studio Glass Movement will be on display until March 24, 2013, at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, (510) 318-8400, museumca.org.


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