Work of the Week – March 3, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014


by Adrian Etheridge

William Bernstein (1945-Present) has been at the forefront of glass work in North Carolina with his wife for the past 30 years. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Bernstein attended the Philadelphia College of Art where he met his wife, a fellow glass artist. Following their marriage in 1968, the two accepted resident positions at the Penland School of Crafts here in North Carolina and happily moved to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains far from city life.

In the early years of his work, Bernstein was highly influenced by the Scandinavian style of glass, especially the Art Nouveau-influenced work. Scandinavia was a veritable hub for glass work throughout the 20th century, but is most known for collectable pieces from the 1950’s and 1960’s, right around the time Bernstein began studying his craft. The Art Nouveau style is famous for the use of  decorative arts, natural forms and curved lines, all characteristics that lend themselves well to glass art.

In the 80’s, the Bernsteins began to establish themselves at the forefront of glass artistry, but needed a continuous influx of sales in order to continue their work. For this reason, they collaborated on a project creating tableware to sell. Kate — who creates figural relief sculptures — created the imagery in the form of melted glass rods, and William supplied the glass forms. This cleverly-collaborated project garnered the artistic couple wide recognition from local art and design magazines and pushed them to continue making tableware and other functional glass work.

Much of William Bernstein’s work focuses on pictorial imagery, but unlike the traditional concept of creating images through surface designs, Bernstein specializes in creating imagery through form. He blows each piece free-form — without the use of molds. In his Piedmont Craftsman biography, Bernstein says he was “drawn to glass as a medium because of the sheer joy of glassworking, the sensuous softness of hot glass, its speed, grace and the rich historical association with the vessel.”

His piece, Clear Decanter with Stopper, shows his distinctive style and love for the graceful art. Traditionally, a decanter is used to hold and decant beverages (typically wine, but also cognac or whiskey) that may contain sediment. Essentially, the decanter is supposed to mimic the effect of swirling wine around in a glass to trigger the release of a pleasing aroma and smooth out the harsher tastes of the drink. However, while this vessel can be solely functional, Bernstein focuses on its form to create an aesthetically pleasing work that could grace a dining room even as a decoration. His use of flowing curves throughout the vessel — in the large undulating ridged globe at the bottom, as well as the curves that flow all the way up to the bubbled stopper at the top — creates the allusion of liquid gracefully running down the piece of glass. And his incorporation of decorative techniques from the ridges around the body of the vessel to the swirling and wavy handle turn this functional glass piece into a work of art. Also, although Bernstein often works with color adding more imagery to his artwork, the choice to leave this piece clear speaks to his ability to create a functional work that would highlight the beautiful color of a drink.

Artwork above: William Bernstein, Clear Decanter with Stopper, 1973 General, Glass, Hot Worked, 8.38 x 5 x 5 inches. Gift of Michael and Barbara Keleher. Permanent Collection. 2010.07.04.50.