The exhibition Look What Harvey Did: Harvey K. Littleton’s Legacy in the Simona and Jerome Chazen Studio Glass Collection uses select works from this acclaimed studio glass collection to celebrate the creative ingenuity that artist and educator Harvey K. Littleton inspired as a founder of the studio glass movement. Even though the Simona and Jerry Chazen’s glass art collection spans primarily the last decades of the twentieth century, the show promises an illuminating perspective on how Littleton’s advocacy of glass as a vehicle for contemporary expression evolved into a recognized movement that continues to impact twenty-first-century art.
Beginning his affiliation with the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1951 as head of ceramics, Littleton organized the seminal 1962 Toledo Museum of Art workshops that enabled artist-craftsmen in ceramics to explore glass. Shortly thereafter, on UW–Madison’s campus he established America’s first university-level, hot glass program.
Until Littleton’s intervention, except for a few forerunners, glass was used primarily in factories for functional wares. Littleton’s approach eliminated the rift between designer and fabricator that invariably plagued production in these shop settings over the centuries while empowering artists to work with glass within the confines of their studios. During the early years of studio glass, in their respective ways, artists in the Chazen’s personal collection—such as American artist Dale Chihuly, Czech artists Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, and Italian artist Lino Tagliepietra—demonstrated the necessity for collaboration and teamwork. Other artists, such as Howard Ben Tré and Bertil Vallien, incorporated specific resources from particular glass factories into their own studio practices. Littleton’s call for glass artists to de-emphasize technique in favor of content was heard internationally. American Michael Aschenbrenner and Australian Scott Chaseling address topical issues from the last decade of the twentieth century in their works. Concept and narrative are now central to glass art. In addition, the demographics of glassmaking have changed over the years. Pioneers such as Mary Shaffer, Toots Zynsky, and Therman Statom have paved the way for women and people of color in the contemporary glass field. In these and many other ways, Littleton’s Legacy: The Simona and Jerome Chazen Collection of Studio Glass is a persuasive testament to the far-reaching vision of Harvey K. Littleton.
Look What Harvey Did is guest-curated by Davira S. Taragin for the Chazen Museum of Art.