In Memoriam: Harvey K Littleton

We mourn the passing of the “Father” of the American Studio Glass Movement, without whom none of us glass artists would be where we are now.

Harvey K. Littleton (1922-2013) was the seminal glass artist whose work ranged from functional vessels to sculptural forms. His father was a physicist at Corning Glass Works providing him early exposure to glass in the factories. Trained as a ceramicist, he began experimenting with hot glass in his studio in the 1950′s. Through two landmark workshops and by establishing the first Studio Glass curriculum at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he helped to bring glass out of the factory and into the artists’ studio. Harvey died on December 13, 2013, at his home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, at the age of 91. A letter circulated by his family states that his death came “after a long decline.” A private celebration of his life, and that of his wife, Bess, who died in October 2009, will be held by the family on January 11th.

He attended Brighton School of Art in England, received his Bachelors of Design at the University of Michigan, and received his M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art.


Harvey Littleton, left, with student Dale Chihuly, right, in 1974. Photo courtesy of Chihuly Inc.

In his role as an educator, Harvey was an “…outspoken and eloquent advocate of university education in the arts.”  He organized the first hot glass program at an American university (the University of Wisconsin–Madison) and promoted the idea of glass as a course of study in university art departments in the Midwest and northeastern United States. Several of Harvey Littleton’s students went on to disseminate the study of glass art throughout the U.S., including Marvin Lipofsky, who started a glass program at the University of California at Berkeley and Dale Chihuly, who developed the glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design and later was a founder of Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington.

Harvey retired from teaching in 1976 to focus on his own art. Exploring the inherent qualities of the medium, he worked in series with simple forms to draw attention to the complex interplay of transparent glass with multiple overlays of thin color.

Harvey  was married to Bess Tamura Littleton in 1947. She died on October 8, 2009.The couple had four children: Carol L. Shay, Thomas Littleton, Maurine Littleton and John Littleton. All work in the field of glass art. Carol L. Shay is the curator at Littleton Studios; Tom Littleton owns and manages Spruce Pine Batch Company, which supplies batch (the dry ingredients of which glass is made) to artists and art departments around the U.S.; Maurine Littleton is the owner and director of Maurine Littleton Gallery which specializes in glass art, in Washington, DC. With his wife and collaborative partner, Kate Vogel, John Littleton is a glass artist in Bakersville, NC.

Harvey’s work can be found in the collection of the High Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Victoria & Albert Museum in England, amongst others.

From our friends at the Corning Museum of Glass: Donations in Harvey Littleton’s name can be made to The Hospice and Palliative Care Center of Mitchell County that provided invaluable support to his family in the care for Harvey, and/or to the Penland School of Crafts “Harvey and Bess Littleton Scholarship Fund” that provides one full scholarship for a two-week summer session in hot glass.

History and Evolution of Studio Glass Lecture Oct 5th

© Erwin Eisch / CMOG

Whats going on in the photo above? 
Is it a new 8 member boy band created from TV show “X Factor”? No.
Still photo from the latest sequel to a Hollywood slasher/gore film? Nope.
Some Portland hipsters gathering at a coffee café that doubles as a low-carbon-footprint bike shop? Wrong Again.

European glass innovator Erwin Eisch made the 8 mold blown works as a tribute to Harvey Littleton in 1976. Eisch’s non-traditional approach to glassmaking had a profound impact during the formative years of the American Studio Glass movement, and his relationship with American glass pioneer Harvey K. Littleton forged an important link between European and American studio artists working in glass. 

Want to know more about the history of Studio Glass? This Saturday, October, 5, from 1 pm, the Debra Ruzinsky of the Washington Glass School will talk and show images presenting a  broad international survey rooted in the early days of studio work. Works by artists Sybren Valkema,  Edris Eckhardt, Michael and Francis Higgins, Libensky and Brychtova, Ann Wolff, Erwin Eisch, Kyohei Fujita, Vera Liskova, to name a few early & influential artists — such as female glass artist Asa Brandt, who has been called the “Harvey Littleton of Sweden”.

This free talk is a great way to know who and where glass has come as we move boldly into a new future of the medium.

BLUE MADONNA by Ann Wolff

What Came Before / A Slide History Of The Studio Glass Movement

Lecturer : Debra Ruzinsky 

When : Saturday,October 5th  

From:1 pm

Cost : Free of charge…RSVP to: washglassschool@aol.com
Where: Washington Glass School
             3700 Otis Street, Mount Rainier, MD 20712

Oh, and the titles of the Erwin Eisch heads:
(A) Littleton the Gentleman: mirrored inside, with glasses, with marble base. (B) Littleton the Poet: with glasses and beanie. (C) Littleton the Teacher: mirrored inside, glassblower painted on right side of head; set on square black base. (D) Littleton, Man of Frauenau: cold painted in facial area and around base with scene of town. (E) Littleton the Worker: applied band of colorless glass across nose and around head, square black base. (F) Littleton’s Headache: painted with bandages surrounding head and chin area, etched in other areas, square black base. (G) Littleton the Fragile. (H) Littleton’s Spirit: with collar and tie.

Special Glass Exhibit at 25th Washington Craft Show

>A highlight every fall, the 25th Annual Washington Craft Show comes to Washington, D.C.‘s Convention Center November 16-18.

Washington DC Convention Center

This premier showcase of contemporary craft in Americais nationally recognized for presenting masterful work, designed and made in artists’ studios across America. If you’re an avid collector, or you simply appreciate quality and beauty, this is your chance to view and purchase the latest works by nearly 200 of the nation’s top contemporary craft artists. Come meet the people who create the art and hear their stories of inspiration. All weekend there will be additional happenings to enjoy; special exhibitions, artist’s talks and fashion shows. Included with admission to the show:


SPECIAL GLASS EXHIBIT

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of studio art glass, the Washington Craft Show has provided the Maurine Littleton Gallery with an 800 square-foot space to illustrate the history of glass. The exhibit will feature work from Harvey K. Littleton, the founder of the American glass movement, and next generation artists Dale Chihuly, Fritz Dreisbach, Michael Janis, Allegra Marquart, Joel Myers, Ginny Ruffner, Therman Statom, Tim Tate, Erwin Timmers, Sean Hennessey and more. Maurine Littleton is the daughter of Harvey K. Littleton.

“A Life In Glass”

MEET THE AUTHOR

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16 5PM- 8PM & SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17 NOON-3PM

Book signings by art professor and author Joan Falconer Byrd: Harvey K. Littleton: A Life in Glass (Rizzoli, 2012). A member of Harvey Littleton’s first glassblowing class at the University of Wisconsin in 1962, Byrd is the author of numerous essays and articles on glass and ceramics.

On Saturday, Professor Byrd will sign copies of her book following a joint lecture with Maurine Littleton (start time 11a.m.). Book signings both days will take place in the Maurine Littleton Special Exhibit space.

DAILY SCREENINGS OF “A NOT SO STILL LIFE” THE GINNY RUFFNER STORY

Recipient of Golden Space Needle as the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary, Seattle International Film Festival. Seattle artist Ginny Ruffner is best known for a pair of remarkable accomplishments: her well-regarded body of “lampworking” glass art and her miraculous, self-willed recovery from a near-fatal car crash that rendered her unable to walk or talk. These stories and dozens of others are illuminated from the inside in Karen Stanton’s moving and inspiring documentary.

FRIDAY, NOV. 16 – 5PM • SATURDAY, NOV.17 – 5PM • SUNDAY, NOV. 18 – 10 AM

“There’s more to Ruffner’s story than art, glorious as it is: “A Not So Still Life” is also an inspiring tale of rehabilitation and recovery.” ~ Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times. Run time 84 minutes.

WEEKEND LECTURE SERIES

Our Weekend Lecture Series provides unique opportunities for show visitors to hear from leaders in the field of Fine Craft. The lectures are educational, informative and interactive. This year’s lineup includes a gallery owner, author, museum curator, and an artist.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 11 AM

“Contemporary Textile Art – Past, Present, and Future”

Rebecca A.T. Stevens, Consulting Curator, Contemporary Textiles, The Textile Museum

Katy Clune, Communications Manager, The Textile Museum

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 11 AM

“The Life and Work of Harvey K. Littleton”

Maureen Littleton and Joan Falconer Byrd: Moderator: Elizabeth Blair, senior producer NPR (Morning Edition, All Things Considered)

Sean Hennessey “That Worlds Unseen Surround the World We Know

IF YOU GO

Friday, November 16 • 10am-8pm

Saturday, November 17 • 10am-6pm

Sunday, November 18 • 11am-5pm (note: Screening of “A Not So Still Life” will begin at 10am in a room adjacent to the show floor. See box office attendant.)

Tickets $15 / seniors $14 / under 12 free with paid adult

Group discounts for 10 or more: $10 ea.

Friday after 6pm: $6


Washington Convention Center

801 Mt. Vernon Place NW

Washington, DC 20001

Harvey K Littleton Exhibit at Richmond’s VisArts

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In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the historic glass workshops that brought glass out of the factory and into the artist’s studio, Richmond, VA’s Visual Arts Centerwill host an exhibition of work spanning the career of Harvey Littleton, the renowned glass artist widely acknowledged as the father of the American studio glass movement. Littleton began experimenting with hot glass in 1959 and later established the first Studio Glass curriculum at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Prior to Littleton’s 1962 workshops, glass was solely a factory material used to make functional, utilitarian objects. Littleton’s experimental and innovative use of blown glass as a sculptural material transformed glass-making into a viable medium for artistic expression.

Harvey Littleton: A Legacy in Glass is organized in conjunction with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition of work by Dale Chilhuly, Harvey Littleton’s former student.

This exhibition is presented with support from the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass and the Danwell Foundation.

Visual Arts Center of Richmond
1812 West Main Street, Richmond, VA
Harvey K. Littleton: A Legacy In Glass
November 9, 2012 – January 13, 2013

S.O.F.A. Chicago Art Fair 2012 Features Studio Glass

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SOFA CHICAGO From Technique to Artistic Expression

The critically acclaimed international art fair SOFACHICAGO returns to historic Navy Pier Friday, Nov 2 through Sunday, Nov 4, 2012, with an Opening Night Preview on Thursday, Nov 1.  The exhibition features masterworks of contemporary and modern arts and design, sculpture, functional art, and visionary art, plus related special exhibitions and lecture series. SOFA CHICAGO promises to be the world hot spot for international studio glass art. The American Studio Glass Movement is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year and the acclaimed art and design fair at Navy Pier will be center-stage. New this year, iPhone and iPad users can use the free SOFA FAIR App to browse the works on display at the show and identify works or contact galleries, simply by pointing their phone at artworks and adding them or instantly receiving information about that work. To download the SOFA FAIR App visit sofaexpo.com.

Harvey Littleton,
Yellow Crown II, 1984, glass

From the SOFA CHICAGO 2012 website: Art “dealer Maurine Littleton of Maurine LittletonGallery (Washington, D.C.), daughter of Harvey Littleton reports that half her booth space (#408) will feature “a selection of rarely seen (and first-time offered) pieces” by her father, including a “spectacular example” from his signature Arc series entitled Yellow Crown II (1984), direct from its exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wis. Littleton says it is the only one of its type still available; similar works can be found at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery of the American Art Museum and in major national public and private art collections.”
Michael Janis, Eclipse, 2012, glass powder imagery

Works by Michael Janis and Allegra Marquart will be amongst the artists featured in the other half. 
Allegra Marquart, Monkey Girl, 2012, glass

Tim Tate will be featured in Habatat Galleries space (#1200) – which has expanded their SOFA booth to accommodate 18 solo exhibitions!

Tim Tate,
The Deconstruction Of George Melies,2012, Cast and Blown Glass, Video

Additionally, the Robert M. Minkoff Foundation will screen their new documentary, The Toledo Workshop Revisited, 1962-2012. In a March 2012 residency, three young artists at the Toledo Museum of Art rebuilt a small glass furnace modeled after the one Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino designed 50 years earlier. 

The 1962 workshop launched the Studio Glass Movement, and made it possible for individual artists to work directly with glass. This new film documents the week-long residency that honors the past and celebrates the future of creative experimentation in glass. Screenings will be followed by Q&A with Robert Minkoff, Managing Trustee of the Robert M. Minkoff Foundation; Andrew Page, Director of the Robert M. Minkoff Foundation.

SOFA Chicago 2012
Nov 1 - 4, 2012
Festival Hall, Navy Pier

600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60611

Historical Glass Fun Facts : Invention of Pyrex & the Studio Glass Movement

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From this. . . . . . .. . . . . . . .to this.

“It was all her idea”

The History of Pyrex
Back in the early 1900′s, Corning Glass Works was working on a request from the railroads to produce lantern glass that would not break when the hot glass was struck by rain or snow. In response to this request, Corning developed globes made from low-expansion glass that could withstand the abuses of weathering and handling which readily broke the flint glass globes. Ironically, the shatterproof lantern globes generated were so good that Corning‘s managers witnessed a decline in sales of replacement globes. This super-tough “fire glass”, as it was called, was resistant to temperature fluctuations, chemical corrosion and even breakage.
Eugene Sullivan, Director of Research at Corning Glass Works, developed Nonex, a borosilicate low-expansion glass, to reduce breakage in shock-resistant lantern globes and battery jars. (Borosilicate glass was originally developed at the Jena Glass works by Otto Schott, which Sullivan had learned about as a doctoral student in Leipzig, Germany.)

In July 1913, a series of events involving Bessie Littleton, the wife of the company’s newest scientist – Dr Jessie Littleton, forced Corning managers to focus their attention on the consumer venture. Apparently, Mrs. Littleton had used a Guernsey brand casserole only twice when it fractured in the oven. Knowing the strength of the glass her husband worked with on a daily basis, she implored him to bring home a substitute from the Corning Glass Works plant. He returned the next evening with the bottoms of two sawed-off battery jars made from low-expansion glasses. Mrs. Littleton cooked a sponge cake in one of the surrogate baking dishes. She noted several remarkable findings:
• The cooking time was shorter
• The cake did not stick to the glass; it was easy to remove with little adhesion
• The cake was unusually uniform
• The flavor of the cake did not remain in the dish after washing
• She could watch the cake bake and know it was done by looking at the underside.

Mr. Littleton brought his wife’s creation to work the following day. Laboratory researchers inspected the cake, which was a “remarkable uniform shade of brown all over.” The men deemed it delicious and very well baked. (A favorite of any lab conclusion, Ed.) Thus began a two-year process to perfect this new invention. The notion of baking in glass was a whole new concept to the public. In 1915, a wondrous new line of “glass dishes for baking” appeared in the nation’s hardware, department and china stores. On May 18, 1915, Boston department store Jordan Marsh placed the first PYREX bakeware order.

The Littleton’s had a son – Harvey K Littleton. Harvey was born in 1922 and was briefly employed by the Corning Glass Works in the 1940s, where he developed his glassmaking skills and began to pursue the idea of glass as a medium for artistic expression. The earliest objects in the exhibition are two experimental cast female torsos, dating to 1942 and 1946, which are the first works in glass made by Littleton while working at Corning Glass Works. Also featured are glass vessels from the early 1960s, dating to the years just after the seminal Toledo Workshops, as well as a bottle made at the 1962 Workshops.

Click HERE to jump to the story of Harvey Littleton and his historic workshops that brought glass from the factory to the artists.

Other Glass Fun Facts to know and tell:

Glass Fun Facts: Gaffer/Composer

More Glass Fun Facts: Bullseye Glass

Float Glass Fun Facts

Glass Fun Facts – Shattered Glass Predicts Weather

Why is Glass Transparent?

Harvey K. Littleton and the Studio Glass Movement

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In 1962, two groundbreaking workshops led by artist Harvey K. Littleton and glass scientist Dominick Labino introduced artists to the material of glass as a medium for artistic expression. Littleton and Labino presented their development of a small, portable furnace and low temperature melting-point glass, providing artists access to glass and glassblowing techniques for the first time. These workshops kickstarted the Studio Glass movement, which emphasized the artist as designer and maker, with a focus on making one-of-a-kind objects.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass movement, in 2012, a number of museums will be mounting exhibitions on the history and origins of the movement.

The Corning Museum of Glass has two exhibitions that opened November 17, 2011 and will run through January 6, 2013.

In the Spring 2012: Chazen Museum of Art (University of Wisconsin, Madison) has an exhibition planned, and there is an exhibition planned for November 2, 2012 thru December 21, 2012 at the: Visual Arts Center of Richmond (Richmond, Virginia)


The man called the father of the Studio Glass Movement was not at first a glass artist. Littleton was born in 1922 and raised in Corning, New York. Throughout his childhood, he had many opportunities to observe glassworking processes and to learn about the properties of glass at the Corning Glass Works. His father, Dr. Jesse T. Littleton, known as J.T., was an expert in the infrared properties of silicon and the first physicist to join the newly established research team at Corning Glass Works headed by Dr. Eugene C. Sullivan.

J.T. Littleton often discussed the properties of glass as dinnertime conversation, and Saturday morning visits to the glassworks were routine for Littleton when he was young. In 1936, he and his brothers witnessed, with his father and many others, the dramatic failure of the first casting of the 200-inch mirror for the Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar in California.

Littleton’s mother, Bessie Cook Littleton, was instrumental in developing Corning’s Pyrex cookware. J. T. Littleton had the idea that Corning’s low-expansion borosilicate glass, which had been developed for use in battery jars (used in rural areas before widespread electrification), could be used for cooking. He took home a battery jar that had been cut into a round, shallow pan, and he convinced his wife to bake a cake in it. Her success led to the development of Corning’s Pyrex housewares.


After receiving a master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Arts Harvey Littleton embarked on the career of potter. Littleton received recognition for his work as a ceramicist in a national exhibition sponsored by the American Crafts Council at the First International Exposition of Ceramics in Cannes, France.

In 1959 he began to investigate the possibility of glass as a medium, and in 1960 had melted glass and cold-worked lumps of cullet. In the summer of 1962 the Toledo Museum of Art invited Littleton to lead a glassblowing workshop. It was in that seminar that Littleton introduced the idea that glass could be mixed and melted, blown and worked in the studio by the artist. Up to that time it was widely believed that glass objects could only be made in the highly structured, mass-produced world of the glass industry where the labor of making glass is divided between designers and skilled craftsmen.


With Littleton’s active encouragement and promotion, glass programs sprang up at universities, art schools, and summer programs across the country during the late 1960s and early 1970s; and the Studio Glass movement became an international phenomenon. What began fifty years ago as a small group of artists who shared an interest in glass as an artistic material has grown into an international community of thousands.”

In 1984, his daughter, Maurine Littleton opened an art gallery committed to artists working in glass and ceramics in Washington DC’s historic Georgetown neighborhood.


Rizzoli Publications

Maurine advised on Joan Falconer Byrd‘s new book : Harvey K Littleton: A Life in Glass” – This new book has many previously unpublished archival photographs and a detailed chronology. Images and the history of Littleton’s early ceramic and glass vessels and his richly colorful glass sculptures, among them the late “Lyrical Movement” series are detailed in this beautifully designed book. The book includes work by his close friend and European counterpart Erwin Eisch and his former student and much-celebrated glass artist Dale Chihuly.


Below is “Pioneers of Studio Glass” – a video that was produced by WGTE Public Media for the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass. It is a fascinating look at the 1962 Toledo Workshops where Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino first experimented with making glass outside of the factory setting.


Pioneers of Studio Glass from corecubed on Vimeo.

Glass History Lesson – Harvey Littleton 1962 Workshops

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As well as being an influential and successful glass artist, Harvey Littleton is known as an outspoken advocate of arts education. He organized the first hot glass course within an American University, which in turn promoted the idea of glass as a valid course of study across university art departments in the Midwest and North Eastern United States. He famously stated that ‘Technique is Cheap’, and fueled debate around the role and importance to the artist of material versus technique and the impact of content in the creation of glass art.

Harvey K Littleton

During the 1950s, studio ceramics and other craft media in the U.S. began to gain in popularity and importance, and artists interested in glass looked for new paths outside industry sources. At that time, access to glass was only through industrial production. Students were not taught hands-on techniques with the material; the craft of working with hot glass was still taught at the factories, under the apprenticeship system. The catalyst for the development of studio glass was Harvey Littleton, a teaching ceramist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Informed by his own background in the material (he grew up in the shadow of Corning Glassworks, where his father headed Research and Development during the 1930′s), Harvey started experimenting with hot glass in his studio in 1958. He eventually realized that his desire to develop studio glassblowing could become a reality after experiencing limited success with his own glassblowing experiments.

The 1962 Toledo Workshop program

Harvey joined forces with the Toledo Museum of Art, the site of the “birth” of the American Studio Glass movement during two historic glassblowing workshops in 1962. He worked with glass research scientist Dominick Labino, who successfully devised a small, inexpensive furnace in which glass could be melted and worked, making it affordable and possible for the first time for artists to blow glass in independent studios.

Harvey Littleton subsequently started a glass program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and some of his early students were Dale Chihuly, Marvin Lipofsky, and Fritz Dreisbach, all artists who have played seminal roles in raising the awareness of studio glass around the world.Source: CMOG

As GlassWeekend 2011 gets started, The Washington Glass School Blog visited with Harvey’s daughter Maurine Littleton at her art gallery in Washington, DC, as she prepared for the exhibition. Maurine brought out some of the early glass pieces made by Harvey at the workshops.

Maurine Littleton discusses the early Harvey Littleton pieces. In the background are Harvey Littleton works ca 1986.

Two Harvey Littleton vases from the 1962 Toledo workshop. The pieces are engraved on the bottom with Harvey’s name and date.

Harvey’s first pieces in blown glass were, like his earlier works in pottery, functional forms: vases, bowls and paperweights. His breakthrough to non-functional form came in 1963 when, with no purpose in mind, he remelted and finished a glass piece that he had earlier smashed in a fit of anger. The object lay in his studio for several weeks before he decided to grind the bottom. As Harvey recounts in his 1971 book Glassblowing: A Search for Form, he brought the object into the house where “it aroused such antipathy in my wife that I looked at it much more closely, finally deciding to send it to an exhibition. Its refusal there made me even more obstinate, and I took it to New York … I later showed it to the curators of design at the Museum of Modern Art. They, perhaps relating it to some other neo-Dada work in the museum, purchased it for the Design Collection.”

Harvey’s birthday is June 14th – he turns 89 this year. Everyone here at the Washington Glass School sends Harvey Best Wishes for a Happy Birthday!

The Smithsonian Institution has a fascinating oral history interview with Harvey – made in 2001. Click HERE to jump to the SI web-link.