A Glass Center Reunion

Celebrating a milestone, Pittsburgh Glass Center showcases a sparkling array of talent, past and present, in the new exhibit “10 x 10 x 10.”

When you’re celebrating a 10th anniversary, the traditional marker material is tin. But at Pittsburgh Glass Center—hold your ears!—that tradition is about to be shattered. It’s a no-brainer that in a place where glass has ruled for the past decade, the choice is: glass.

“10 x 10 x 10” is the clever title for a milestone show opening May 6 that doubles as somewhat of a class reunion: Any artist who has exhibited, taught, demonstrated or lectured at the center since its opening was asked to participate. Right now, more than 230 artists have confirmed out of about 330 who were invited, and each will provide a glass work for the show.

Now, you might ask, how do you fit that much glass into the PGC’s Hodge Gallery (besides “very carefully”)? That’s another component to “10 x 10 x 10”: Each piece must be no larger than 10 inches by 10 inches by 10 inches. Arranged salon style, the collection will be positioned from floor to ceiling.

“I’m excited for this exhibition because the gallery will prove to be a beautiful artistic representation of PGC’s first 10 years,” says Heather McElwee, PGC’s executive director and a glass artist herself represented in the anniversary show. “As I look back on these 10 years at PGC and remember working with all of these amazing artists, I can’t imagine a more fitting reunion than this exhibition.”

Also represented at the reunion will be glass talent from around the globe—America, Asia, Australia and Europe—with representatives from such groups as the forebears of the American studio glass art movement (including Dale Chihuly), international masters, contemporary American glass artists (including several from the Pittsburgh area) and former PGC high school students.

Like the 29 shows that came before it at Pittsburgh Glass Center, “10 x 10 x 10” will shatter your ideas about what glass is. Naturally, some works are inspired by traditional forms, including the exquisite “Field Peas” vase by Linda Ethier. But you’ll also see examples that push the boundaries and perceptions of glass: There’s Dale Chihuly’s sublime blown-glass “Blue Sky Basket” and Joseph Cavalieri’s imaginative “Psychedelic New World Order,” a composite of glass, vitreous enamel, solder and a bird (yes, albeit a specimen suspended inside the dome, connected with wire). And if you think no anniversary party is complete without cake, don’t miss “Raspberry Slice of Cake” by Susan Taylor Glasgow.

But before there was “10 x 10 x 10,” before there was a Pittsburgh Glass Center here to celebrate 10 years, there’s another 10 years worth noting. That was the decade spent envisioning, planning and working hard to make a nonprofit public-access glass school, gallery and studio a reality.

The dream began with Kathleen Mulcahy and her husband, Ron Desmett, local glass artists and co-founding artists of Pittsburgh Glass Center.

“Though it seems miraculous for the PGC to be 10 years old, Ron and I remember when it was just our idea and wondered if it would ever happen,” says Mulcahy, who, along with Ron, has a piece included in the anniversary show. “Foundation officers asked us, ‘Who will come here to work in glass?’ And another nonprofit head said, ‘The [funding] pie is just so big,’ intimating no room for a start-up like ours.”

Undaunted, undeterred and vowing to make it happen, Mulcahy and Desmett never took no for an answer. By fundraising and community building, as well as by receiving help and support from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the William Block family, who were local glass-art collectors, the pair eventually saw that their persistence paid off: At last, Pittsburgh Glass Center opened its doors in 2001.

Of course, Mulcahy and Desmett’s success might also be attributed to envisioning the Glass Center as more than just a place where the focus is glass—created, displayed and discussed. At the advent of a new millennium, they also viewed the project as helping to build a New Pittsburgh (which actually dovetails nicely with the Old Pittsburgh, a center of glass production—including its artistic side—long before iron and steel dominated the regional economy).

“We believed so deeply that Pittsburgh needed this to thrive in this new age as it moved away from manufacturing,” says Mulcahy. “When the arts thrive, the area and the region thrive. Art tells others who we really are, how we feel and what we think of ourselves.”

Says McElwee: “The Pittsburgh Glass Center was founded on the principle that it would be a place where artists of all levels could work side by side in an open, nurturing and creative environment. Now, 10 years later, as I look back and think about the 15,000 students that have come through our doors—from a first-time paperweight maker to an Italian maestro— I realize how important that principle is to everything we do.”

Looking toward the future, it seems as if the glass is more than half full.

“10 x 10 x 10” premieres Fri., May 6, with a reception from 6-9 p.m. at 5472 Penn Ave., Friendship. It continues through Sept. 15: Tues.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. This show is one of many events that will take place at PGC in 2011 to celebrate its 10th anniversary. For more information, call 412/365-2145 or visit pittsburghglasscenter.org.

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