Although the production of utilitarian glass objects like bottles, canning jars and windows dates back to the late 1700s in Appalachia and the western mountains of North Carolina, the art of glassblowing was not introduced until 1965 at Penland School of Crafts. Its subsequent influence on the studio glass movement has been significant, with many of the glass artists who studied there in the 1960s and 1970s garnering international acclaim. Former artists-in-residence from that period include Mark Peiser, William and Katherine Bernstein, Richard Ritter, Jan Williams and Rob Levin.
Blue Crown by Harvey Littleton.
Photo: Maurine Littleton Gallery
The arrival in Spruce Pine in 1976 of glass artist Harvey Littleton, widely recognized as the founder of the American studio glass movement, drew a community of young glassblowers to the state. Originally a ceramist, Littleton became intrigued with the possibility of glass as a medium, and in 1960 began working with melted glass and recycled bits of glass, or cullet. Introducing the idea that glass could be mixed, melted, blown and worked in the studio by an artist, he established the first glass program in the country at the University of Wisconsin and attracted students like Dale Chihuly and Marvin Lipofsky who became notable artists in their own right.
Today, there is a wide range of work being done in glass in the state. Winston-Salem’s Jon Kuhn is a master of cold working, which involves sandblasting, engraving, cutting, grinding and polishing glass without heating it. Penland’s Shane Fero does skilled flame work, in which hot melted glass is shaped with tools into a sculpture. And Spruce Pine artist Rick Beck uses molds to shape his glass in a process known as slump casting.