Survey of the Work of Pioneering Artist Toots Zynsky at The Corning Museum of Glass

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The Corning Museum of Glass will present an unprecedented survey of work by the groundbreaking female artist Toots Zynsky, a pioneer of the studio glass movement. Masters of Studio Glass: Toots Zynsky will be on view at the Museum April 2, 2011, through January 29, 2012.

Maestrale, 2005

Maestrale, 2005

She is one of a small, core group of pioneering artists who made contemporary glass a worldwide phenomenon, and her distinctive kiln-formed vessels enjoy widespread popularity for their often magnificent, and always unique, explorations in color.

The Corning Museum of Glass will present an unprecedented survey of work by the groundbreaking female artist Toots Zynsky. A pioneer of the studio glass movement, Zynsky draws from the traditions of painting, sculpture and the decorative arts to inspire her innovative, intricate vessels. The exhibition, Masters of Studio Glass: Toots Zynsky, will feature 12 works representing the varied techniques and inspirations from throughout Zynsky’s career, and will be on view at The Corning Museum of Glass from April 2, 2011, through January 29, 2012.

Zynsky attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where she was one of acclaimed artist Dale Chihuly’s first students. In 1971, she was part of a group of Chihuly’s friends and RISD students who founded the influential Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State. There, she made installations of slumped plate glass, and later experimented with video and performance work with artist Buster Simpson, incorporating hot and cold glass. This experimental work was critical to the development of using glass as a material to explore issues in contemporary art.

The exhibition is part of the Corning Museum’s ongoing Masters of Studio Glass series that was developed to provide a platform for in-depth surveys of a range of artists represented in the Museum’s permanent collection. Masters of Studio Glass: Toots Zynsky will also feature seminal works commissioned by the Museum in 1988 as part of its annual Rakow Commission, and an unusually large vessel commissioned in 2005 by Chicago collectors, and Corning Museum benefactors, Ben and Natalie Heineman.

“Zynsky has made a life’s work of studying and manipulating colored glass threads through the vehicle of her distinctive, undulating forms,” says Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass at the Museum. “She is one of a small, core group of pioneering artists who made contemporary glass a worldwide phenomenon, and her distinctive kiln-formed vessels enjoy widespread popularity for their often magnificent, and always unique, explorations in color.”

Mary Ann Toots Zynsky was born in 1951. She received her bachelor of fine arts at RISD in 1973. In 1980, Zynsky became assistant director and head of the hot shop at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop in New York City, which is now called UrbanGlass. At the Experimental Glass Workshop, she brought together her interests in diverse materials, focusing on glass and barbed wire. During this time she began to make her unique “spun glass” vessels, such as the Corning Museum’s pieces titled Promises and Other Misinformation (1981) and Waterspout No. 13 (conceived in 1979 and made in 1994).

By 1982, Zynsky was working on pieces combining fused nets of glass threads with blown forms. The Museum’s vessel, Clipped Grass, was one of the first objects made solely of fused glass threads by Zynsky. She gave a name to the new technique that she developed, calling it “filet de verre,” or layers of glass threads that are fused and hot-formed inside of a kiln. Between 1983 and 1999, Zynsky lived and worked in Europe, and in 1984, she was invited to make designs in blown glass for the famous Venini glassworks on Murano. Her work for Venini resulted in the unusual Folto vases in contrasting colors, two of which are included in the Museum’s collection.

In 1988, the Corning Museum awarded Zynsky its annual Rakow Commission. The two vessels that she made for the Commission demonstrate her strong palette, influenced by African textiles, and her skillful manipulation of the glass vessels while hot. Zynsky’s most recent work is represented in the Museum’s collection by Incantatrice, or “sorceress,” which reflects a transformation in her color palette, focusing on strong neutrals, such as black, red, and amber rather than the variegated color palette she used for much of her career.

To make her vessels, Zynsky first layers thousands of multicolored glass threads onto a round heat-resistant fiberboard plate. For her, this part of the process is like drawing or painting. This mass of glass threads is then fused inside a kiln. While hot, the fused thread disk is allowed to slowly slump into a series of consecutively deeper and rounder preheated bowl-shaped metal forms. To make taller vessels, the piece is turned upside down and slumped over a cone-shaped mold. Finally, Zynsky reaches into the kiln, wearing special heat-resistant gloves, and she squeezes the glass into a unique undulating form.

Zynsky’s glass vessels are represented in more than 70 international museum collections, including the Boymans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, NY; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Musée des Arts Décoratifs du Louvre, Paris, France; Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The Corning Museum of Glass is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of glass. Spanning the globe and encompassing more than 3,500 years of human ingenuity, the collection includes masterpieces from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; the great civilizations of Islam, Asia, Europe and the Americas; and the range of artistic movements beginning in the late 19th century and extending to the present day. Interactive exhibits tell the story of life-changing historic advancements and contemporary innovations in glass technology.

Live glassblowing demonstrations (offered at the Museum, on the road in the U.S. and abroad, and at sea on Celebrity Cruises) bring the material to life for audiences of all ages. Daily Make Your Own Glass experiences at the Museum enable visitors to create their own work in a state-of-the-art hot glassmaking studio.

The Museum’s campus includes a year-round glassmaking school and the Rakow Research Library, the world’s foremost archive and reference collection on the history of glassmaking. A center for scholarship, the Museum also publishes glass-focused periodicals, books and exhibition catalogs.

Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York State, the Museum is open daily, year-round. Kids and teens, 19 and under, receive free admission. The Corning Museum of Glass is conveniently located directly off I-86/Rte. 17, mid-way between Niagara Falls and New York City.

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Yvette Sterbenk

Christine D’Aleo
Resnicow Schroeder Associates
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