Two halves of a large clear globe with continents etched on the surface sit atop circular, sand-covered landscapes. Peer through the clear spaces of the oceans to see an inhabited realm with exquisite mollusk shells — hand blown spiraling glass shells — oranges, yellows, greens, blues with patterns and designs inspired by their naturally occurring kin from around the world.
Hermit crabs occupying the shells carry their adopted homes with them as they travel to the water bowl, congregate by the driftwood, and go about their daily crab activities. Through the clear glass shells, viewers can see their bodies tucked inside. In the colored glass ones, their little faces peek out.
Glass artist Robert DuGrenier has been studying hermit crabs and collaborating with scientists for over two decades on projects about these crustaceans and their role in the ecosystem. His glorious shells are popular with the creatures, who move right in — he’s blown them with a right hand spiral, appropriate as 97% of hermit crabs are right handed. His hand blown glass shells eloquently bring focus to these terrestrial little crustaceans and issues of habitat loss.
DuGrenier’s glass shells are among the artworks by 21 glass artists in “2021˚ F: 10th Anniversary Vermont Glass Guild Exhibition” in the Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum t at Manchester’s Southern Vermont Arts Center. The exhibition shows a stunning variety of techniques and expression in glass art today. Works created through glassblowing, glass sculpting, flame-working, fusing and more are in the show.
Also at SVAC in the Yester House galleries are solo exhibitions by artist members — Round One to Aug. 1, Round Two starting Aug. 7. Outdoor sculpture in SVAC’s permanent collection and an extensive body of work from Salem Art Works (SAW), an arts center and sculpture park in Salem, New York, are displayed throughout the grounds in the Stroup Family Sculpture Park.
“Artists make pieces especially for this show, sometimes outside of their regular body of work. It gives them liberty to explore things,” says DuGrenier, president of the Vermont Glass Guild.
The Vermont Glass Guild was established in 2010. Its goal is to bring together glassworkers that live and/or work in Vermont. Their 60 members work in methods including hot (furnace-worked), lamp (torch-worked), warm (fused/slumped), and cold (stained glass).
“What keeps glass artists interested is working with material that is so immediately responsive to you. My fulfillment comes out of that process of making and communication with the material,” DuGrenier said.
“Somebody asked me how long it takes to make one of my colored crab shells and I answered, it’s 47 years and about one and a half hours. Pieces have multiple stages. Some will take a week to prep before you go to the studio. We all have our limit in front of a 2300 degree furnace,” he said.
DuGrenier notes that the “Blown Away” series on Netflix is bringing new fans to glass arts. Similar to a bake off competition, glass artist contestants are given challenges to design and create glass pieces. In the program’s “hot shop” viewers see stages of glasswork — sculpting, blowing glass, stretching long threadlike canes and working the magic to make them into finished artworks — sometimes, as in life, with breakage along the way.
In a selection of pieces by Joshua Bernbaum at the gallery entry, he uses multiple techniques in stunning bowls and sculpture. In “Introverre (Black Mountains),” a web of gently curving pale canes is blown into a graceful vessel. On the outside, another layer of black glass is fused, cut away and sculpted, evoking jagged peaks.
Jen Violette takes viewers to nature in her sculpted glass pieces. Clean lines and uncluttered shapes speak to simple elegance in nature. “Forest through the Trees,” a stand of gray, bare branched trees rises up. A small red bird nestles by the trunks. Her “Potted Plant Collection,” with black vases and chartreuse flora, is a little witty as well as charming.
Josh Simpson’s discs evoke a sense of outer space — its vastness, birth of stars, planetary forms — with layers of depth and quality of light passing through the glass.
Robert Dane’s work includes pieces from his series connected to African drumming, with blown and sculpted drum forms and faces. His “Janus,” with its two faces, looks ahead and behind, a deep blue with lines of canes trickling down its brows.