Early days were about trial and errorMaking studio glass in the early days of the UW-Madison glass program was a scrappy affair.
By: By Gayle Worland, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Making studio glass in the early days of the UW-Madison glass program was a scrappy affair. Artists had to build their own tools, including furnaces, from the ground up. Learning how to handle glass was a matter of experimentation, trial and error.
It all started in a homemade studio on Harvey Littleton's Verona farm in 1962. But within a few years the university glass program moved to a Quonset hut on North Randall Street next to Jingles Stadium Bar, which became something of an "annex," said Steve Feren, the sole faculty member for glassmaking at UW-Madison today. The bar furnished ice for burns. Fed up with temperatures inside the glass facility that would reach 130 degrees, students cut a window in a wall facing Jingles, adding ventilation and a free glassmaking show for bar patrons.
In those days students had to "sleep with the kiln," setting up a cot next to glass furnaces so they could incrementally turn down the heat as their pieces cooled, Feren said. Today, computers do that job.
In 2005 the UW-Madison program moved to the Glass Lab at 630 W. Mifflin St., which holds twice-yearly student art sales to help fund it.
Funding for the UW-Madison art department has been flat for decades, said Tom Loeser, the department's chairman. Still "I think there's a major commitment to the glass program. I think it's seen as sort of a 'heritage' program or a trademark program for the department" because of its key role in the history of studio glass.
"Even as we've morphed into a 21st-century program that deals with a lot with things that weren't part of the art world 25 years ago -- video, animation, and all kinds of digital specialities -- we have a long-term strong commitment to teaching students actual hand skills," Loeser said. "Glass is very, very popular. I think students are really curious about it."
The art department is fundraising for student scholarships and with the UW Foundation is working to endow a faculty position in glassmaking, a first for the art department, Loeser said.
Feren, a sculptor who has been at UW-Madison for 30 years and also teaches neon and light sculpture, notes that in recent decades glass artists have made an "extraordinary leap."
"There are really dynamite glass artists who do incredible work now."
"One of the things I'm very proud of is that we have a lot of students who are out there working professionally. A lot of students have started (glass) studios all over the world," Feren said. "It's a medium that seduces people for a lifetime. It's a magical material like no other. It's fluidity. It's a dance with time, heat and gravity."
(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services