Reality Check: How the Magic Happens

Amanda Shepard, Vice President and COO

One of the things we can count on in our adult lives is being asked by others what it is that we do. Everyone from family we don’t see very often to dental hygienists use this question as a way to get the conversation rolling, innocently enough. Ironically, though, this tactic almost always brings the conversation to an awkward end, both parties unsure of what follow-up questions to ask and neither genuinely interested in learning more about the other’s “consulting” or “sales.”

I know several people who consult and sell, and I’m genuinely fascinated by the skills they have and can only imagine what their professional lives demand. Furthermore, a salesperson is never just a salesperson. They are the link between someone who needs something and the provider of that something. They are a relationship builder and a matchmaker, creating solutions that drive our economy. Somehow this level of insight doesn’t seem appropriate to convey when someone is scraping plaque off your teeth.

With my colleague Katy Thompson, I explained the thrills of COO life in an art museum, so I already answered your burning question about what it is that I and my comrades “do.” Now, for the question that often comes next: “Where do you get the art that you display?”

The answers to this question are best understood if you’ve got some knowledge of what many refer to as the “art world”—a zone of commerce and human activity that’s not all that removed from the real world, but nonetheless unique and at times absurd. I love talking about the art world but at the same time don’t treat it like hallowed ground accessible only to special art people. As I’m about to explain, you’ll see that the magic happens at the point where the art world and the real world collide.

One of the most popular series of exhibitions at FWMoA, the Summer of Glass, got its start on a 2012 vacation I took with my family. We love to escape to Traverse City, Michigan, and we always make time to visit the Dennos Museum Center. We were transfixed by an installation by Howard BenTré, having never seen glass sculpture of such power and shown with such reverence. The object labels said, “Courtesy of Habatat Galleries.” Habatat Galleries? Who were these people? Back in Fort Wayne, we couldn’t stop thinking about BenTré’s work, so we cold-called Habatat Galleries, asking how we could work together.

The folks at Habatat were eager to partner with us. As we would learn, Habatat is the oldest and most influential gallery in the country for studio glass, a movement pioneered by Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino in the 1950s that soon inspired artists and collectors to love and nurture this medium in the decades that followed. Who could blame them?

The next summer, we unveiled a series of ambitious exhibitions of contemporary studio glass in partnership with our friends at Habatat Galleries. They loaned us their International Studio Glass Invitational Award Winners exhibition, a group show of the best in worldwide glass sculpture. Several months before, it so happened that Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, offered its prized collection of botanically-inspired sculpture by the beloved and masterful Dale Chihuly to be shown at FWMoA. Though this marriage was a match made in heaven, our budding collaboration with Habatat and Franklin Park’s offering can only be described as the art world stars aligning.

Dale Chihuly’s Secret Garden Exhibition at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 2013. Photograph by FWMoA.

There was one tiny problem. The gallery area that was reserved for these exhibitions is made up of 3 individual spaces, so we needed some more glass. Our own collection had almost nothing to contribute, so we turned to Habatat once more. The missing link between the Franklin Park collection and the cutting edge International show, we realized, was the story of Chihuly’s influence on this new generation. We had our show.

Habatat helped us curate a third exhibition from their inventory, The Next Generation of Studio Glass, and each year since we have exhibited group and solo shows of work by artists Habatat represents. Memorable exhibitions include those by Peter Bremers, Christina Bothwell, Albert Paley, and Brent Kee Young, each of whom are gifted speakers full of knowledge and heart and all who I call my friends.

These relationships have led to important collection acquisitions. Though glass sculpture often exceeds our spending threshold, we’ve made some major purchases in this medium, including one from Bremers’ Icebergs and Paraphernalia series and a glorious Chihuly chandelier. These purchases dazzle the public to no end, signaling to us that we’re on the right track.

Peter Bremers. Duch, b. 1957. Icebergs and Paraphernalia 11-219. Cast glass, 2011. Museum Purchase. Photography by FWMoA.

The relationships keep getting stronger and the momentum more exciting. Just this year, three major glass sculptures have been offered to us by established American collectors, including one of the largest hot-sculpted landscapes in the world, Martin Blank’s Repose in Amber. Years in the making, the artwork was commissioned by real estate developer and art philanthropist Mike Kurzman for Chicago’s 120 South LaSalle Building and included as part of Chicago’s Public Art and Architecture Tour. I see Blank’s sculpture as a link to that big art world that can seem so distant and lofty, and yet I am reminded by its presence that it isn’t so far off at all.

Martin Blank. American, b. 1962. Repose in Amber. Hand sculpted glass on steel, 2004. Private Collection. Photography by FWMoA.

Come visit FWMoA Tuesday-Sunday to see both Peter Bremers’ and Martin Blank’s sculptural glass pieces!

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