Off the Cuff: The Siren Song of Santa Fe

Charles Shepard, President & CEO

Many of us, including myself, are still wary of travel. We worry about COVID variants, increased ticket & luggage prices, and general doubts about delays and/or cancellations. I will also confess to being a reluctant traveler in general. Traveling wreaks havoc with my daily habits, both at home and at the museum. My happy trip, each day, is from my house to the museum and back: little risk, high rewards. That said, the larger world likes to tease me with siren songs of the cuisine in sun-drenched Greece, the Turner exhibit at the Tate, and, most tempting, the glass in Venice. Like brave Ulysses, however, I cover my eyes and ears and hold fast to my course of habit.

FWMoA CEO & President Charles Shepard with glass artist Charles Miner. Photo courtesy of Charles Shepard.

My confidence in my commitment to not stray too far towards the rocks was challenged earlier this year by a song more sweet and personal than the usual: good friends Larry Sibrack and Linda Greene. Partners at the American Alliance for Contemporary Glass (AACG), they beckoned me to join them (and thirty-plus other glass collectors) for an immersive voyage into the dynamic glass culture of Santa Fe, New Mexico. My reason and resolve were weakened by Fort Wayne’s cold, wet May and the prospect of seeing and talking about glass with a multitude of artists and seasoned collectors. Quite uncharacteristic of my nature, I acted on impulse; that afternoon I booked a flight to Santa Fe. Visions of glass studios, gallery exhibitions, and live glass demonstrations swirled through my head! Conversations with collectors, and potential donors, fueled my imagination!

Day 1

Despite my lingering misgivings, on the appointed day the sky was blue and the sun shone brightly as my flight lifted off from FWA and sped to a connection in Dallas. Barely enough time for a taco on the run to the next gate, I was back in the air. Less than ninety minutes later, we drifted down out of a perfectly cloudless sky and landed softly on the tarmac at the Santa Fe Regional Airport. As I sat on the patio of the hotel, enjoying the sun, other folks that I recognized from months of Zoom calls began arriving. Shortly, tables were pulled together and about a dozen of us talked about our anticipation of the upcoming studio visits, gallery openings, and private home tours. The fun was set to begin at the Gerald Peters Gallery, just a few blocks away.

Garo Antreasian, American, 1922-2018. Fruit. Color lithograph on paper, 1958. Museum purchase, 1958.02. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Gerald Peters is respected internationally as an art collector and dealer. Both his galleries, the original in Santa Fe and the satellite in New York City, attract both seasoned collectors and those just starting out. In my Connecticut years, I met Gerald early on and visited him at the New York gallery to see the exhibitions he put together and get collecting advice. This was my first visit to his Santa Fe gallery, and I was pleased to find him personally hosting our initial outing. We had just a few minutes to catch up before he led our whole group on a tour of the three main exhibits on display. The first was a terrific showing of a selection of works on paper by Indiana native and Herron School of Art graduate Garo Antreasian. In addition to being a renowned printmaker and painter, Antreasian co-founded (along with artists June Wayne and Clinton Adams) Tamarind Press in 1960 in LA. He moved it all out to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1964. At Tamarind Antreasian was the master printer until his retirement in the 80s. He learned his craft at the Herron School of Art and his training at Herron was the foundation for his artistic career. In Albuquerque, he not only led Tamarind but served as the head of the University of New Mexico’s art and art history department. The exhibition we were treated to that evening was an array of Garo’s most iconic lithographs along with a number of elegant charcoal drawings. After our warm welcome at the gallery, we walked to our planned restaurant for dinner and conversation before heading back to get some sleep before an early start the next morning.

Day 2

Thursday morning came fast! There was barely time to get coffee before we boarded our bus to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (one of the eight museums in the state operated by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs) to see the stunning exhibition Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass featuring thirty-four Native American glass artists plus Dale Chihuly, who was instrumental in developing the glass art scene in Santa Fe. Our guide was Dr. Letitia Chambers, curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying book by the same name. Native American artists involvement with glass as a medium was thanks to the Institute of American Indian Arts bringing Dale Chihuly out to Santa Fe in 1974 to build a hot shop and teach. Chihuly’s involvement exponentially changed the New Mexican art scene as artists flocked to the Institute’s classes and glass facility. The exhibition was breathtaking! The combination of the work displayed and the dynamic installation that the NMDCA staff exhibit designers created for the exhibition was inspiring. Dr. Chambers’ book was the inspiration for the exhibition and, as you might imagine, her tour of the exhibit was spellbinding. Several artists represented in the exhibition “dropped” in to add their personal perspectives about their pieces, which added immeasurably to our experience.

Trying on the kit at Elodie’s studio, Liquid Light. Photo courtesy of Charles Shepard.

I confess that I did not know much about the history of the glass scene in Santa Fe prior. I certainly would not have imagined that glass artists Mel Knowles and Jack Miller had studied with one of Harvey Littleton’s earliest students, Tom McGauchlin. That training led Knowles and Miller, in 1968, to open the first glass studio in Santa Fe on Canyon Road. They were joined by artist Peet Robinson, who had just worked with Dale Chihuly to create Pilchuck. Quickly and quietly, Santa Fe developed into a center for glass media art and the Canyon Road Studio was a fertile training ground for artists who wanted to explore the medium. Chihuly himself came out to teach and help educate the public about studio glass. The Canyon Road Studio spun off other hot shops, pushing glass in various directions and creating a glass movement in Santa Fe. Artists like Peter Vanderlaan, Charlie Miner, Elodie Holmes, Daphne Morrisey, Jenny Langston, and many others were instrumental in developing the glass scene in Santa Fe. Following this, we headed out to meet Elodie Holmes herself and watch a hot glass demonstration by one of her colleagues at her Liquid Light Glass Studio.

The experience of standing in the hot sun outside Elodie’s studio as she welcomed us was soon greatly surpassed by a sort of melting sensation inside her hot-shop and blasting 1600 degree glass furnace. Although Elodie initially trained as a ceramicist at Montgomery College in Maryland, she switched to glass after meeting and studying with glass pioneer Marvin Lipofsky at California College of the Arts (CCA). After finishing her studies at CCA in 1981, Elodie joined the glass team at the Canyon Road Studio in Santa Fe to further develop her work. Elodie’s dedication led to her recognition around the country and internationally. I took a moment to pick one of Elodie’s beautiful pieces to add to the museum’s growing glass collection and, as we boarded the bus, I passed my phone around to show everyone pictures of the piece I purchased.

Elodie Holmes, American, b. 1959. Neo Moon Aurora. Blown glass and forged steel, 2019. Museum purchase with funds provided by the June E. Enoch Collection Fund, 2022.381.1-3. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Day 3

The next morning, after an early breakfast, we gathered again to call on JoAnn and Bob Balzer’s spacious home to view their private collection of not just glass but paintings, ceramics, basketry, carvings that tell the story of art in the Southwest. I don’t think I have ever seen a home so full of art: every wall, every shelf, virtually every surface was covered. At the end of our tour, Bob told us their process for collecting: “We didn`t start out with any lofty goal in mind.” JoAnn chimed in: “We have always trusted our eyes and our hearts.”

As hard as it was to leave, I was eager get to my friend and glass artist Lucy Lyons’ studio. On this visit there wouldn’t be a demo, but Lucy would give us a tour and talk about her work. During the tour of her studio she explained the processes and techniques she uses to create her evocative glass and bronze sculptures. At the tour’s conclusion, Lucy gathered us all around a broad work table in the center of her studio and spoke of her motivations: “I started started working in glass simply because it is a very seductive material. I have chosen to focus on sculpting figures. What interests me most is trying to convey the intellectual and emotional state of the individuals in my pieces, relying on subtle gestures, a turn of the head or twist of the hips, to express the figure’s state of mind. For a long time I was paring down the environment of the figures to simple geometric forms.  Most recently, I am working on softening those forms yet keeping them simple and obvious. Refining the figure has absorbed much of my time. Throughout the years, I have tackled the technical challenges of increasingly larger work.  The increased scale allows for more nuance of expression in each sculpture”.

A peek into Lucy Lyons’ hot shop. Photo courtesy of Charles Shepard.

Studio glass got underway in Santa Fe in 1968 when Mel Knowles and Jack Miller – two artists who had learned to work in glass from Tom McGlauchlin, who was taught to work in glass by none other than Harvey Littleton – opened the Canyon Road Glass Studio. Charlie Miner, whose studio we journeyed to next, joined them at Canyon Road in 1973. He honed his skills beside Knowles, Miller, Pete Robison, and Dale Chihuly. Soon, over a dozen highly skilled glass artists were working at The Canyon Road Studio before striking out to open their own studios to work with glass and teach others. Charlie Miner worked at Canyon Road Studio until 1975 when he was ready to create his Tesuque Glassworks in nearby Pojoaque, expanding the Canyon Road working/teaching tradition.

Charles Miner, American, b. 1947. Mary’s Ladies. Pate de verre. Gift in memory of Sylvia Fendel, Yale Fendel, and Max Rosenbach, 2020.194. Image courtesy of FWMoA.
FWMoA’s newest acquisition by Charles Miner. Photo courtesy of Charles Shepard.

Charlie Miner’s Tesuque studio provided the next hot shop to make the process of blowing glass available to the public. The Tesuque Glassworks offers a place to work for both already trained glass artists and young artists who aspire to work in glass. The gallery features Miner’s blown and cast glass sculpture plus works in glass by other artists. During our visit, we watched one of the more experienced Tesuque artists blow a large, beautiful piece and took a tour through the studio. Several people in our group had Miner’s work in their collections; and, I was thrilled to tell him the museum was gifted one of his larger pieces as part of the large Fendel/Rosenbach Collection, donated in the prior year. Looking at a work he recently completed, the piece was a large sandcast “bowl” form with fish “swimming” around its perimeter. I knew the museum needed it, and by offering us, as a museum, an excellent price I happily bought it!

Glassblowing demo at Tesque Studio. Photo courtesy of Charles Shepard.

The key event of the evening–a glass exhibition opening at the Blue Rain Gallery–featured Preston Singletary, Vivian Wang, Shelley Muzylowski Allen, Lucy Lyon, Rick Allen, Dan Daily, Ben Cobb, Dan Friday, Nancy Callan, Alex Bernstein, and Susan Taylor Glasgow. What a line up! The large, gorgeous space was full of museum quality artworks in a variety of media. Something I did not expect was that most of the artists were present! Many of them present that evening are included in our growing glass collection; a number of which recently arrived as gifts from either the Fendel/Rosenbach Collection or the Carl & Stephanie Beling Collection. We were truly all excited to see each other. The artists and collectors were delighted to hear of our Glass Wing, which is now dedicated to rotating works from our rapidly growing glass collection.

Day 4

My glass collecting friends had yet another full day ahead of them featuring more home and studio tours, but I was headed home to Fort Wayne. Before we were strangers, or simply faces on Zoom; how quickly our love of glass brought us together.

A toast to Santa Fe, to glass, and the new wing at FWMoA! Come see the newly acquired pieces and many more now on display in the glass wing, open during museum hours and free on Thursday evenings from 5pm-8pm.

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