Work of the Week – December 16, 2013
by Adrian Etheridge
Contemporary glass artist Gary Beecham (1955-Present) entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison intending to study geology. But the young student – now an internationally-appreciated artist – soon found his way to the glass shop where his willingness to help around the shop garnered approval from older students working there. He soon changed his major and began learning how to blow glass along with other techniques. Today, Beecham is one of several glass artists living and creating in the artisan culture of Western North Carolina.
Artists have been working with glass since Greek and Roman times, and Beecham’s work has been influenced by this ancient art both in form and technique. In other words, while to many people glass may seem like an unforgiving material to use, ancient glass artists treated the medium as a “plastic gem material,” a malleable substance, that could be melted, stretched, colored and carved. As such, Beecham has experimented with many different techniques from glass blowing (inflating glass into a bubble at the end of a tube and shaping the bubble form), fusing (putting layered glass sheet through a complex kiln heating process), and cutting (slicing sheets of glass into desired shapes).
Throughout his 25-year career, Beecham has become known for his heavy, thick-walled vessels, such as Textile Vessel. The artist’s ability to create such a heavy piece from an easily-breakable material speaks to his skill. Its smoothness and rounded edges show the finesse the artist had in hand-shaping the blown piece. But my favorite part is the rippling of the sides as they change dimensions – getting smaller if the viewer reads the piece from top to bottom or getting larger if reading from bottom to top. Personally, I read this piece from bottom to top following the waves of glass as they grow upward from the surface it rests on. Just as free-blown pieces grow as the artist blows more air into the glass bubble, this piece seems to blossom up towards the viewer.
Another interesting facet of Beecham’s glass work, present in this piece, is his use of color to create textile patterns. Ancient Romans and Egyptians had many methods of coloring glass, and in the 8th century a chemist discovered metal oxides as the secret to coloring glass. Now, in order to create colored glass, artists add metal oxides, sulfides and other compounds to the molten glass. By overlaying a wide pallet of colored rods into the glass as it is being blown, Beecham creates the illusion of fabric floating within the glass.This is evident in the beautiful colors in the bowl of the piece, which appears to contain a square of colorful woven textile. The colors reflect throughout the vessel so that the pattern seems to repeat. This glass vessel is an excellent example of Beecham’s technical skill as an artist and his eye for form and color as a designer.
Artwork above: Gary Beecham (1955-Present), Textile Vessel, 1982 General, Glass 7 x 11 x 11 inches. Gift of Sonia and Isaac Luski. Permanent Collection. 19188.8.131.52.