Corning Museum of Glass Unveils 2009 Rakow Commission by Isabel De Obaldía

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The Corning Museum of Glass last week unveiled its annual Rakow Commission: Rey del Cenote, by Panamanian artist Isabel De Obaldía.

The Rakow Commission at The Corning Museum of Glass

De Obaldía’s large, totemic animals, colored with glass powders and engraved with raw cuts and gashes, have a powerful, almost shamanic presence

The Corning Museum of Glass last week unveiled its annual Rakow Commission: Rey del Cenote, by Panamanian artist Isabel De Obaldía.

The distinctive sand-cast sculpture by De Obaldía draws on ancient and tribal art. The title of her commission refers to the crocodile as the king of the cenote, which is a deep natural well. In ancient times, sacrifices to the gods often took place at a cenote.    

“De Obaldía’s large, totemic animals, colored with glass powders and engraved with raw cuts and gashes, have a powerful, almost shamanic presence,” says Tina Oldknow, the Museum’s curator of modern glass.

De Obaldía was trained as a painter. Her work reflects that of a long line of modern “primitive” painters, from Paul Gauguin to Diego Rivera, who explored the art of ancient and tribal cultures. Her paintings and sculptures incorporate symbols and ideas from ancient Panamanian, Colombian and Costa Rican art. The thin, stafflike form of her crocodile, for example, alludes to the partly submerged body of the crocodile in water, as well as to the ceremonial batons used by a number of indigenous peoples of Panama. The weathered-looking surface of the sculpture gives it an air of antiquity.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1957, De Obaldía was raised in Panama by French and Panamanian parents. She studied architecture at the University of Panama and drawing at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before receiving a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and cinematography from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, in 1979. De Obaldía continued her studies in art at the Art Students League in New York City in 1982. In 1987, she began to work with glass at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., where she studied engraving and glass casting for more than a decade. She currently lives and works in Panama City.

Inaugurated in 1986, the Rakow Commission is awarded to professional artists whose work is not yet represented in the Museum’s collection. The commission supports new works of art in glass by encouraging emerging or established artists to venture into new areas that they might otherwise be unable to explore because of financial limitations. It is made possible through the generosity of the late Dr. and Mrs. Leonard S. Rakow, Fellows, friends, and benefactors of the Museum.

Each commissioned work is added to the Museum’s collection and is displayed publicly for the first time during the Museum’s annual Seminar on Glass. Rey del Cenote was unveiled October 16, 2009, following a public lecture by the artist (which will be available for view on the Museum’s website, http://www.cmog.org, after November 5, 2009).

The Rakow Commission is a key component of the Corning Museum’s ongoing work with, and advocacy for, living artists. The Corning Museum of Glass acts as both a supporter of the current generation and a catalyst for those who will follow. It is the leading international institution for the collection, preservation, study and display of work in glass by living artists, and it serves as a critical convening and research resource for the glass community and others interested in learning more about the material.

The Corning Museum of Glass
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
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