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.

4 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Harvey K Littleton

  1. I was fortunae to study with Harvey at the Toledo Museum of Art, his first gig after receiving his degree. Because of his encouragement, I was also able to study at Cranbrook. He was so encouraging to those students immersed in clay. He was also responsible for starting the Potters Guild in Ann Arbor as well as Toledo. He also headed the Midwest Designer Craftsmen organization. Later on, one of his students, Fritz Dreisbach, taught in the makeshift garage glass studio where I also took a class for a year.

  2. I felt very honored to have been invited by Harvey to work in his glass printmaking studio, year after year. It became a ritual, a learning and productive experience where we researched and developed printmaking techniques never done before. There was an excitement and enthusiasm with each print created under Harvey’s roof with the collaboration of his master printer, Judith O’Rourke.

  3. To add to Littleton’s work in making glass plates for printing purposes, a long time friend of mine, Robert Freimark, Professor Emeritus (now deceased) Printmaking, San Jose University, CA, was invited by Harvey to come to his studio in North Carolina to make prints on these new plates. On his way home, Robert stopped at my place in Brasstown, NC where I was working at the Campbell Folk School, to show me his work done at Harvey’s studio. He then gave me one of his prints. Freimark was one of the charter members of the Artists Round Table of Toledo, including myself and my late husband, Bill Staffel. The group existed only a couple of years as many members went on to gain fame in their art careers which began with the free night classes at the Toledo Museum of Art. Penny Gentieu has memorialized the individualized members on her website Artists of Toledo.