Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In Dialogue with Nature: Glass in the Gardens

McClellan's Mango Tango (blown and sand etched 
glass -- 21x12) 
When I discovered Duncan McClellan's gallery in St. Pete, I thought I had died and gone to studio glass heaven. The gallery represents 90 international glass artists working in all iterations of the medium. And then there's McClellan's own remarkable work. Sarasota residents reluctant to make the trek to St. Pete can get a feel for the work of McClellan and some of his fellow artists at Selby Gardens' exhibit In Dialogue with Nature: Glass in the Gardens.

I was front and center for McClellan's talk at Selby about his work and the exhibit. He is as charming as he is talented.

McClellan's fascination with glass dates back to a car trip his family -- mother, father and eight children -- took from Florida to New York City to see Michelangelo's Pieta at the World's Fair. McClellan recalled with a laugh the "tinkle can" in the back of the vintage station wagon that was a necessity given his father's unwillingness to make comfort stops whenever one of the many kids had to pee.

McClellan's Vines (blown and sand
carved glass -- 39x19x19) 
The family did, however, stop at the Blenko Glass Factory in Milton, West Virginia. Duncan remembers the awe his younger self felt at seeing the molten glass turn into a physical object. He was hooked. It was some time, however, before he began his own work in the medium. "At five years old, I couldn't afford it," he said. "Plus I was too short."

McClellan's formative years as a glass artist were spent blowing glass in Ybor City. He was later invited to study and work at the ARS Studio in Murano, Italy. He was only the second American on whom this honor was bestowed in the studio's 200 year history.

McClellan shared he had to learn how to carve out mistakes from some of his early work. This "happy accident" led to his art form -- designs carved onto glass.

McClellan's Fiftieth Cousins

McClellan's process is quite complicated (and apologies to him if I don't have it quite right). Works of the size shown above can take four people to blow. Given the choreography required, McClellan calls it a "ballet with molten material."

When the form has been created, it is overlaid with color and then annealed (cooled slowly in the oven). He then undertakes a six stage process of grinding and polishing the glass to create his canvas.

Once McClellan has settled on his design, he uses resist tape, pencil and pen to sketch out the image. He wields an exacto knife for the carving. A large piece might weigh in at 40 pounds out of the kiln. When McClellan has worked his magic, the piece might have slimmed down to 22 pounds or so.

McClellan's commitment to his art extends well beyond his own creations. "The power of art can change not only a particular place or neighborhood," he said, "But a whole community."  It was out of this belief that McClellan established the DMG Gallery and, later, the DMG School Project.

McClellan's Cold Winter Night
(overlay sand carved glass -- with interior 
carving- 12x8.5)

McClellan converted an old tomato packing plant into his gallery/studio/home. It is gorgeous -- and well away from the hustle and bustle of downtown St. Pete. After some prodding, McClellan spearheaded an even larger project -- establishing St. Pete's Warehouse Arts District. (Click here to read about WADA, which is one of five art districts in the city.) The adage "if you build it, they will come" comes to mind.

If you're interested in checking out the WADA galleries, you can do so in one fell swoop during St. Pete's monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk. And McClellan's hot shop is always in action during these events.

The objective of the DMG School Project is "to provide educational opportunities to both artists and the community while contributing to the development of glass as a creative medium in both St. Petersburg and the international glass community." That's a mouthful!

The Project fulfills its mission by offering master classes, demos and lectures. Thanks to its mobile hot shop, the Project can take its program to groups that can't make it to the studio. Since the Project's inception, more than 10,000 participants, including many young students, have learned from McClellan et al about the creation of studio glass. For more info about the Project, click here.

Mariel Bass Peony Bottles
(blown and hot sculpted glass)
For the record, McClellan talked as well about the other artists participating in the exhibit. I particularly liked these bottles blown and sculpted by Virgin Island artist Mariel Bass, who's only been working with glass for three years. But there's no doubt McClellan is the star of this show.

If you're in the Sarasota area, a trip to Selby Gardens to see the exhibit (and the gardens!) won't disappoint. The exhibit runs through September 2. For more information, click here.

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