Connected \\ April 12, 2022
More than 90 influential artists represented in new studio glass acquisition
PEM has recently acquired a significant collection of 20th-century studio glass from New York-based collectors Carl and Betty Pforzheimer. I’ve had the privilege to work on this acquisition, a collection that is remarkable for the diversity of forms, scale and techniques of more than 90 of the most influential glass artists working today. Many of these artists will be represented at PEM for the first time.
The gift of the Pforzheimer Collection of Studio Glass, which was announced today, includes over 200 works of international studio glass as well as about 40 pieces of historic European and American glass. It greatly expands PEM’s holdings of studio glass and joins an already robust assemblage of historic American glass at the museum. Thanks to companion funding from the Pforzheimers, these objects will be cared for and accessible for generations to come. In the Q and A below, the couple were kind enough to share their thoughts about the collection, the medium and what they hope will be the impact of this important gift. A selection of works from the Pforzheimer Collection will go on view in PEM’s Native American & American Art galleries this year and planning is underway for a presentation of many more works from the collection to be installed in the newly named Pforzheimer Gallery in 2024.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM's Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Executive Director and CEO, with Betty and Carl Pforzheimer and Dean Lahikainen, PEM’s Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator Emeritus of American Decorative Art, who brought the collection to PEM. Photo by Diana DiRamio/PEM.
Q: Can you tell us about the first piece you collected together? What hooked you on the medium and inspired you to keep collecting?
A: The first piece was Mark Peiser’s paperweight vase, Cattail Swamp. It was being given to Doug Heller in their first gallery, Contemporary Art Glass Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York, for resale when we had just come into the gallery for the first time to look around. We bought it on the spot. Doug was a superb mentor and salesman and taught us the basics of appreciating the emerging art glass movement. A fair amount of our collection was inspired by what Heller Gallery carried and by Doug’s (and his brother, Michael’s) patient descriptions of why they were carrying it.
Q: Carl, beyond collecting you also trained in the art of glass blowing. Does your knowledge of the techniques and challenges of glass inform your collecting?
A: I think it does. Whereas technique is not art, it helps me to understand how a piece was made and then to judge if I think the artistic result was a success as well, at least to me.
Q: How do you talk about this medium to people who might not know much about it to help them appreciate it too?
A: Betty says that I have often been able to talk about the collection at the dinner table and impart some of what she and I have learned in the process of collecting, what I know about glassblowing. Many times they want to know more and sometimes they follow up with purchases of their own and show them to us in their own homes.
Nancy Callan, Melon Droplet, 2019. Blown and etched glass. Gift of Carl and Betty Pforzheimer. Courtesy of the artist. Photo © Russell Johnson.
Q: What has it meant to live with your collection? What pieces will you most miss seeing on a daily basis?
A: We have enjoyed collecting, and living with the collection. It’s been a privilege to live with objects of such great beauty, the extraordinary result of the combination of sand and fire. The pieces have been displayed on tables and alcoves and even on the floor, children and grandchildren notwithstanding; and we never lost a piece because of them. Regarding the second question, for Betty, she will particularly miss what we call William Carlson’s “Knots,” named Concursatio, which dominated one living room wall, and the Jon Kuhn cube which refracts the sunlight into prisms onto the dining room walls according to the time of day and season which she can enjoy from where she sits at the table. For me, it will be the Lino pieces which we had in all the places I lived or worked, the incredible shapes and colors and recognized mastery and love of the glass the pieces effortlessly displayed.
Q: You are major collectors of Lino Tagliapietra’s work as well as close friends. Can you share more about what his work means to you?
Lino’s work has become more than just pieces of glass to us. His friendship has endowed us with an extra appreciation of his work ethic, his boundless creativity, his desire to work longer and better than most artists are able to. We respect him for his legendary generosity to young glass artists in sharing his mastery of the medium.
Lino Tagliapietra, Florencia, 2019. Blown glass. Gift of Carl and Betty Pforzheimer. Courtesy of the artist. Photo © Russell Johnson.
Q: Who are some of the other artists who have inspired your collecting?
A: The collection has pieces by more than 90 artists; it’s hard to pick out just a few from the list. But Toots Zynsky comes easily to mind, as does Jon Kuhn and Harvey Littleton and Libensky, the last two as “founders” of the movement. And Tom Patti. But that’s leaving out many, many more inspirational artists.
Q: What are your hopes for the collection at PEM?
A: We are looking forward to seeing the collection in another and much different setting, where the general public can come to learn about it as we have and come to appreciate this form of art on its own and as it complements the PEM collection.
The author (pictured at left) viewing the collection with Betty Pforzheimer and Angela Segalla, Director of the Collection Center and Collection Stewardship, at the Collection Center in Rowley. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
TOP IMAGE: A selection of works by Harvey Littleton, Toots Zynsky and James Watkins in the couple’s New York home, 2021. Photo by Sarah Chasse.