Playing Favorites: Katy Thompson & Caterina Urrata-Weintraub

We’ve asked FWMoA staff the hardest question you can ask art museum people: so, what is your favorite artwork currently on display? As “art museum people”, we often get asked about our favorite artists, artworks, and the art we choose to hang on our own walls. Since not all of our staff are front-end, and not all of them write for the blog, this series gives everyone a chance to get to know them, too. Taking advantage of our rotating exhibitions of artworks, from painted portraits to sculpted bronzes, FWMoA staff from all departments are choosing artworks that enthrall and enchant them; or, in other words, playing favorites.

Katy Thompson, FWMoA Associate Director of Education. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Katy Thompson moved to Fort Wayne to accept a position at FWMoA four years ago. Her current favorite? The Fragile Finger Monsters by glass artist Caterina Urrata-Weintraub.

Caterina Urrata-Weintraub, American, b. 1963. Fragile Finger Monsters. Cast and blown glass, 2020. Museum purchase with funds provided by the June E. Enoch Collection Fund, 2020.18.

Q: What is the first thing you noticed about this artwork? What drew you to this particular piece?

A: They’re monsters! The director of the museum, Charles Shepard, actually came to me with a printout of this purchase because he knew how much I would love it. I have monster covers on my work keys and toys in my office, so this artwork is right up my alley! When I first saw the photo I didn’t realize the hands would come with the puppets as well, but of course that makes perfect sense as they’re part of the narrative. (Note the hands are in different positions!). The curator chose not to have the puppets interacting with each other, but instead facing out to the visitor. Their expressions are hysterical, and the detail is exquisite. I love her color choice and that the monsters are individuals.

Q: Would you hang this artwork in your home? Why or why not?

A: Yes! They would look so cute on either side of my books as bookends on a shelf. I just know every time I looked at them they would make me smile. I would also definitely have to name them.

Q: What does this artwork mean to you?

A: I love the playfulness. Glass artists constantly amaze me with the delicate, intricate details they are able to achieve. It reminds me of toys I would get in kid’s meals and then trade with my friends, so it’s also nostalgic. In addition, the exploration of material and change, going from rubber toys meant to be played with to glass toys meant only for display, is intriguing and raises a lot of questions about how we define art. Glass started out as functional pieces: glasses, bowls, and vases. Today, contemporary studio glass creates glass that is purely fine art; so Weintraub’s work is an excellent example of taking a functional, playful object and making it a fine, displayable object.

The artist originally made them for fun, to give to friends and family as presents, and they are inspired by the rubber toys, The Terrifying Finger Monsters, that Weintraub would get following a dentist appointment or from the quarter machines at grocery stores. The first sets she completed in an hour; now, it takes her a few days from start to finish. The monsters are flame-worked, borosilicate glass, and she begins the process by choosing her colors. Then, she alternates between flameworking and coldwork to make the heads, arms, and teeth separately. Once all the parts are complete, she uses a torch to assemble them; the monsters have to stay hot, otherwise the glass will crack during assembly. The hands are kiln cast glass; using a mold of her hands (or her assistants to achieve various sizes), the monsters are sized to fit the fingers.

Q: Why did you choose to work at an art museum?

A: I grew up going to the St. Louis Art Museum with my mom and sister and loved it. I was also fascinated by the faces of people who no longer lived. I have a history degree and had previously interned at history museums, but when the job application for an art museum popped up on a Facebook group I’m in, I went for it!

Q: What has been your favorite exhibition at FWMoA during your employment? What exhibition are you most looking forward to in the next year or two?

A: When I first started there was an exhibit of our Amish quilt collection that I loved! My favorite exhibit to lead tours through was Peter Bremer’s glass exhibit entitled Seven Bodies. Students were fascinated by how he created the works, and I loved watching students gravitate towards specific ones and explain why.

I’m most looking forward to The National, a juried photography show, this fall.

Q: What kid of art do you have in your home?

A: My current favorite are animal prints I picked up from local artists during the Monarch Festival in September.

When you visit FWMoA, be sure to check out Martin Blank’s glass sculpture permanently on display in the hallway.

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