“Heartland 4,” Belger Crane Yard Gallery

Brian Corr, Penumbral Delineation Pairing, 2020-21, 34.5″ x 6″ x 6″ & 34″ x 7″ x 7″, Canework, blown, sandblasted and hand-finished glass (Belger Arts)

From the sublime to the louche, the elegant to the whimsical, the 20-plus pieces in the juried exhibition “Heartland 4” are proof that contemporary glassmaking offers as many avenues for wildfire creativity as any other medium out there. I use the word “wildfire” deliberately, as glassmaking, in its many forms, is hot, difficult, and yes — sometimes dangerous. Which is why the results — ethereal, poetic and fragile — are so compelling.

Pamela Sabroso and Alison Siegel, Psychedelic Corn Smut, 2020, 9″ x 5.5″ x 3.5″, Blown glass, assemblage, moldable epoxy, wire, synthetic hair (Jason Bauer)

Always considered a grueling, challenging medium to master — in 1295, it was against the law for the highly valued glass artisans in Murano, Italy, to leave the city — until recently, glassmaking (along with ceramics, textiles, woodwork, basketry), was marginalized in the West as just one more subset in the world of decorative arts. But the artworld has increasingly taken its blinders off as to who and what can make great art, and there is now a generation of young artists who insist on creating with whatever materials that interest them.

Locally, the art department at Emporia State University has a glassmaking studio; Monarch Glass Studio was founded at 18th and Vine in 2015, the Belger Arts Center has newly opened glassblowing facilities, (see “KC Studio,” March/April 2022), and there are glass studios scheduled to open soon in the Englewood area of Independence, Missouri. The Kansas City region, it seems, is destined to become a major center for glass art and its makers.

Evelyn Craft Belger, director of Belger Arts, and Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, were two of the jurors for “Heartland 4,” the fourth annual juried show of glass art since 2017. (Heartland was begun by Monarch Glass in 2017, and meant to be an annual event, but was sidelined by COVID-19 for three years). They selected work by glass artists from Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. All the work had to be composed of at least 50% glass and completed during the last two years.

Jessalyn Mailoa, Rabbit Tooth Fairies, 2022, 10″ x 5.5″ x 5″, Blown glass (Belger Arts)

The two pieces in Brian Corr’s inky “Penumbral Delineation Pairing,” inscrutable and a little sinister, look like a cross between two black swans and heat-seeking missiles. It is a post-minimal statement of real beauty. His works offer a striking contrast to the surreal and punch-drunk little sculpture “Psychedelic Corn Smut” by Pamela Sabroso and Alison Siegel, the off-kilter confidence of Jeremy Lamape’s abstract “Dolt Walker,” and the fancifulness of Jessalynn Mailoa’s “Rabbit Tooth Fairies.” Alice in Wonderland would be right at home with any of these highly inventive artworks.

Dierk Van Keppel, who has been making glass art since 1981, is the elder statesman of glassmaking in this area. His free-standing sculpture “Cosmos,” made of aluminum walls with inserts of multi-colored glass rondels, is a virtual sampler for the process of making art glass. Another glass veteran and the founder of Monarch Glass, Tyler Kimball, demonstrates the seductive power of hot applied silver foil in his perfectly formed vessels “Silver and Black Duo.”

Patrick Martin, Untitled (Stack of Pencils), 2020, 20″ x 16.5″ x 22″, Glass, metal (Shawn Honea)

Patrick Martin teaches in the glass studio at Emporia State University. In “Untitled (Stack of Pencils),” he has painstakingly crafted and stacked dozens of individual translucent, large-scale pencils into a perfect, free-standing triangle of mind-boggling geometry.

The rigorous craftsmanship of glassblowing, when combined with playful pattern-making, can produce gorgeous bowls such as “Side Road Vessels” by Evan Seeling, “Blue Overlay” by Robert Ore, and “Infinity Bowl” by Annie Honn.

Strong, idiosyncratic statements are made by Lauryl Sidwell’s “Oh, You’re Approaching Me,” with its reference to illustrated books, Wanda Tyner’s “Busy Bees,” a charming rendition of bumblebees and their hive, Nadine Saylor’s “Dairy Jug,” a beautiful milk-white vessel, and Cecilia Labora’s “Silver Murini Blown Necklace,” a great testimonial to the ability of glass to fit any occasion.

Robert Flowers, Floral Series #14, 2021, 5″ x 2″ x 5″, Blown glass (Belger Arts)

The extreme delicacy of glass is well explored by Gavin McDonald in his balancing act “Three Repeaters,” in the crushed smithereens featured in “I and You: We” by Casey Whittier, and in Kate Clements’ exquisite “Mirror Reflecting Wallpaper,” an ode to the art nouveau artist William Morris.

The liminal, ethereal quality particular to great glass art is exemplified in the ghostly lidded vessel “Zanfirico Jar” by Miguel Alaniz, and in Robert Flower’s “Floral Series #14,” in which somehow, miraculously, a real five-petaled purple flower exists forever in a solid, round glass bubble.

This writer is no expert in glassmaking techniques, and I don’t pretend to fully understand how all these works were created. I do know I will never get tired of looking at them.

Heartland 4” continues at Belger Crane Yard Gallery, 2011 Tracy Ave., through May 7. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816 474 7316 or belgerarts org/heartland-4.

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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