This summer exhibition at WAM explores exquisite historic objects and compelling contemporary art that uses ancient glassmaking techniques. The exhibition continues the museum’s recent focus on groundbreaking contemporary glass art. Cameo Glass in Context: Charlotte Potter and April Surgent showcases two contemporary artists who use cameo-carved glass as their medium. These artists address social networks, urban landscape, and environmental change. Their 21st-century subjects contrast with the themes of older cameo glassmakers, which include individual portraiture, decorative patterning, and romantic landscapes.
Cameo glass was first invented in ancient Rome and then virtually disappeared until its revival in European Art Nouveau and Art Deco glass in the decades around 1900. The embrace of this traditional glass technique by two young artists is unexpected and exceptional. Because of the difficulty of fusing different colors of glass, the extreme control needed to carve glass with rotating wheels, and the toxicity of etching with acid, cameo glass is rarely made today, despite the exquisite results that are possible.
Cameo Glass in Context: Charlotte Potter and April Surgent presents a wide selection of the work of the two artists along with examples of historical precedents.
Charlotte Potter concentrates on cameo portraiture, referring to a traditional use of cameo glass. She uses images of her family and friends to map her social network in the digital age. In Charlotte’s Web, for example, she presents an installation of over 850 small portraits of her Facebook friends arranged according to their geographical location.
April Surgent creates technically astounding and deeply evocative photo-based city scenes and remote landscapes that explore complicated themes of social isolation and environmental change. Her recent work is informed by long residencies in remote and environmentally-challenged locations.
Cameo Glass in Context is a loan exhibition organized by the Wichita Art Museum. The project is guest-curated by Vicki Halper, a former curator at the Seattle Art Museum with deep expertise in craft and glass art. Halper is no stranger at WAM. She curated the museum’s present display of the glass collection in the F. Price Cossman Gallery as well as Australian Glass Art: American Links for the Museum of Glass that WAM presented in summer 2014.