‘The sense of soul’
“Satao” (2020), a sculpture made from hot blown glass by Robert Dane.

‘The sense of soul’

Vermont Glass Guild exhibit at BMAC draws inspiration from ancient objects

BRATTLEBORO — A new exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) takes its inspiration from objects created centuries ago and originating from dozens of cultures across the globe.

“Vermont Glass Guild: Inspired by the Past” features work by 13 glass artists, each of whom selected an item from BMAC's Study Collection of Ancient Objects to inform and inspire their work.

BMAC uses that collection of 314 items, spanning 4,000 years of history, as an educational resource, allowing contemporary makers to explore the work of their creative ancestors with their own hands.

Shown side by side with their historical counterparts, the new works showcase the myriad ways in which contemporary glass artists manipulate their medium to make objects of function and beauty.

The participating artists include Josh Bernbaum, Marta Bernbaum, Robert Dane, Robert DuGrenier, Zak Grace, David Leppla, Angela Nephew, Alyssa Oxley, Lori Pietropaoli, Matt Seasholtz, Chris Sherwin, Josh Simpson, and Randi Solin.

The exhibit was developed under the leadership of DuGrenier and Patricia Johnson.

“Working with the Study Collection was the first time I was ever able to handle antiquities that were more than 500 years old,” DuGrenier said. “It was incredibly exciting to get the sense of soul that was created by artisans thousands of years ago using materials that can endure over time.”

“I particularly liked the large food storage vessels made of ceramics with subtle colors and patterns,” he added. “These inspired my collection of blown glass vessels.”

DuGrenier's installation, “Brattlebeach 2121,” features live hermit crabs that will excavate the buried vessels over the course of the four-month exhibit. The crabs will be fed, cared for, and kept in an appropriate habitat.

Ever since DuGrenier saw a hermit crab living in the broken neck of a cola bottle on the beach over 25 years ago, he has made glass shells to serve as beautiful, comfortable homes for hermit crabs. Some of the crabs in the exhibit will arrive housed in glass shells, while others will likely move from their natural shells into larger glass shells during the exhibit.

“My installation is a look at a possible future of what climate change may do: bring the ocean to the foothills of Brattleboro, leaving hermit crabs and sand as potential occupants of the future!” DuGrenier said in a news release.

Oxley described how she chose her object from the Study Collection during a visit with BMAC Director of Exhibitions Sarah Freeman.

“Out of a flat file drawer, Sarah pulled a pale gray box that looked like it would hold photos,” Oxley said. “She began exposing small patterned fabric pieces showing distinct wear, threadbare areas, frayed edges, even holes. I knew this was it.”

“Making glass boxes is a favorite challenge, and figuring out how to make a glass version of an ancient fabric immediately consumed me,” she said.

Randi Solin selected an ancient bronze bianzhong bell, which inspired her to explore new forms and techniques in blown glass.

“The bronze bell features decorative rivets, which I translated into texture by blowing molten glass into a metal form,” Solin said. “This created a unique glossy surface, contrasted by a sandblasted golden 'handle' and a thick beveled lip.”

Robert Dane's work for the exhibit was inspired by a small elephant belt clasp.

“It opened a new direction for me in my 'Music of Africa' series,” Dane said. “Animal masks are often a part of the rituals of African culture, and I was struck by the similarities of the depiction and decoration of elephants across many diverse cultures in both Africa and Asia.”

BMAC will present two events in connection with the exhibit.

• Members of the Vermont Glass Guild will participate in “Vermont Blown Away,” a free glassblowing demonstration and friendly competition, on Sunday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m. at Fire Arts Vermont (485 W. River Rd., Brattleboro).

• Robert DuGrenier will lead a tour of his studio on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, at 7 p.m. Register at brattleboromuseum.org.

“Vermont Glass Guild: Inspired by the Past” is on view at BMAC through March 5, 2022.

Established in 2010, the Vermont Glass Guild consists of more than 40 regional artists working in various techniques of glassmaking. It was founded to help glass artists network, to promote their work collaboratively, and to educate the public about glass art in all forms.

Many Vermont Glass Guild members participate in BMAC's Glasstastic program, which brings together elementary school children from all over the country who submit drawings and descriptions of imaginary creatures and glass artists who turn those drawings into fabulous three-dimensional glass sculptures.

Guild members have also exhibited together numerous times, and widely individually.

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