Magic has returned to glassmaking, whose mystery long ago was driven out by the industrial revolution that demoted glass to common houseware. Fortunately, an approach begun in the early 1960s, known as the Studio Glass Movement, has set the ancient tradition of glassmaking on an entirely new course. Its advances are engagingly reflected in a nine-person exhibit, "Philadelphia Women Working in Glass" at Rosemont College. The distinguished glass artist Lucartha Kohler, a Philadelphia transplant living in North Carolina glass country, chose the featured artists, who have received their glass training at various universities and art schools.
The ancient cast glass techniques, practiced here by both Kohler and Anna Boothe, convey the artists' strong identification with their subject matter. Kohler's nine-piece series salutes Phoenixville ironwork; Boothe creates lustrous face masks. Gabrielle Miles Silverlight captivates with a jaunty, unpretentious, and appealing grid of tiny scattered houses.
Two of the more audacious participants are members of the collective Burnt Asphalt Family: cofounder Jessica Jane Julius, who excels at surrounding various shapes with a meandering red netting (lampworked with tiny threads of glass), and Emma Salamon, whose dull-red, paint-spattered floor piece of mirror glass is believed by not a few overly cautious visitors to be a crime scene under investigation.
Even the simplest glass cubes are furnace-cast, and Celeste Starita's were ladled out of a hot glass furnace. Other works that provide some of the show's best moments are the pleasing wildness of Paula Mandel's several mixed-media extravaganzas using found objects; George-ann Greth's signature piece, and Amber Cowan's delightful white wreath, its lyrical quality summoning up a spirit of conviction and affirmation.
Glassmaking has special physical appeal that attracts artists, but it isn't for the fainthearted - its techniques are sufficiently difficult to discourage all but the brave. Certainly Rosemont's show is an incentive to look at glass art afresh.
Once a year, the Center for Emerging Visual Artists grants a guest curator an opportunity to organize a group show. Katrin Elia did the honors most recently, choosing for her current "Beyond Abstraction" display eight regional artists, most of whom already have gallery representation. It's a balanced group, if a bit more abstract than not.
Antonio Puri, a painter capable of producing works of unusual strength and originality, offers Existence, a modified batik and mixed-media canvas that is the largest piece, and one of its most exciting. Agile, fresh, and vital are Alan Soffer's richly colorful abstract paintings in encaustic, while the works of his sculptor wife, Libbie Soffer, are especially remarkable. One highlights her acute observations about the toll the economy is taking on the American family. Another, striking in a different way, features a set of playful small stoneware wall ornaments that participate in sheer childish pleasures as much as they comment on them.
Brian Dickerson's mixed-media constructions hone form and flatten space, reducing and constructing in the ways of formal abstraction. They have an immediate presence, but their modeling follows the ebb and flow of the vital process itself. Larry Spaid's choice of limiting even his vestiges of abstraction is humble, but not submissive: Wonderful handmade rag paper remains, other ingredients having been given up in order to bring these works close to the purity of geometric abstraction. Life is created by tensions and palpitations in scene painter Ron Pokrasso's landscapes, with their juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated elements, and in the quieter moments of both Gillian Pears' gentle pastel-toned photos and Anja Mohn's pale single-channel video.
Daniel J. Kariko's "Storm Season" features his lens-free, extended-exposure pinhole photos taken after hurricanes in Louisiana's wetlands from 2006 through 2010. Now on view at St. Joseph's University, they give evidence of the fact that the state is experiencing the nation's highest rate of coastal erosion, losing coastal land the size of a football field every half-hour.
Kariko, of Greenville, N.C., cites the adversarial relationship that develops when we stop the flooding of rivers by building levees, which in turn destroys wetlands that protect the coast from major storm surges. His low-angle, gritty images dramatize the problem's enormity and capture beauty even among so much tragic devastation.