The green glass grows
December 4, 2007
Ginny Ruffner’s glossy glass and metal sculptures have invaded the Main Gallery of the Kimball Art Center, some exploding 10 feet into space, glittering in an abundance of flower-shaped forms. Gigantic as some are, one wonders how much material must be melted and shaped? Where does it come from?
Friday, beneath a ceiling of Ruffner’s glass flowers — part of one of her most powerful installations — a group of gallery strollers was enlightened about glass artists’ bourgeoning environmental movement. The talk, which drew a crowd of 35 (five times the typical turnout for the Center), was team-taught by Sundance Resort’s Art Shack Director Celeste Dennis and Park City resident Peter Roberts, a glass artist who is constructing The Glory Hole, a studio and glassworks school at the Canyons Resort.
Both artists employ used glass in their practices, but caution that though attitudes are changing, the fine art world long considered the recycled glass declasse.
"There’s been a division between artists who recycle and those who don’t," explained Dennis. "For a long time, recycled glass was often thought of as an inferior material."
However, increasing environmental awareness has made artists "more enchanted" with used glass and the process, she said. When working with the material, artists must assemble teams to keep the recycled glass hot since it losses its heat so rapidly. Quickly, they scoop and mix the batch together in a rhythm, Dennis explained, almost like a choreographed dance. In fact, for the 2002 Winter Olympics, Roberts said he choreographed a performance of the process set to music performed by the Julliard School of Music’s orchestra, but the event was later cancelled due to 9/11.
Dennis works with a team from Mexico at the Art Shack at Sundance to crush, melt and blow the resort’s glasses, cups and plates, many are third or fourth generation glass artists from towns just outside Guadalajara. They come for six-month residencies to work at the resort, bringing their recycled glass expertise with them. "They work in two teams of three and know each other’s movements," Dennis explained. "They are master glass blowers."
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The colors that emerge from recycled glass tend to be limited to clear, brown and in Sundance’s case, cobalt blue, due to donations from the Skyy Vodka company. Material also comes from Provo residents, she said, who otherwise must dispose of their empty glass bottles into landfills. The pieces — mainly drinking cups, plates and bowls — are used in the resorts restaurants and are featured in the Sundance Catalogue.
"It’s great to be able to talk about this, because this is what artists should be doing" she said. "There’s a wave that’s come along for green practices and making art in more efficient ways and we consider ourselves pioneers in this area of recycled glass outside of Guadalajara."
Roberts likewise noted a reversal in the "snobbish" attitude of the art world toward used glass, adding that employing the environmental process could contribute significantly to reducing the amount of waste in landfills and energy consumption. A billion-dollar glasswares company in Ashville, N.C., for example, has not only reduced the amount of waste in landfills, but has engineered a system that siphons methane from a landfill to fuel their furnaces, he said. Roberts himself dreams of sequestering the carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fired plants in Utah in a similar way, though he is only at the beginning "white paper" stages of speaking with the U.S. Department of Energy and investigating the possibility.
As for his own practice, Roberts has spent decades creating cost-efficient and energy-efficient kiln rooms, ultimately arriving at a globe topped, round structure built with triangle bricks. He said his kiln rooms are 38 percent more efficient than the typical square-shaped variety. The Glory Hole is slated to open by February of 2008 with three of his circular kiln rooms that will also be used to heat surrounding neighbor’s driveways in the winter months.
Dennis’ and Roberts’ talk at the Kimball drew a crowd of 35 — five times the typical talk, according to Kathleen Carricabusa.
"Other art talks have drawn about seven people at the max," she said. "I think it’s a very contemporary idea to have that environmental thread throughout the work. It’s very exciting to see."