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Glass Art Evokes World's Natural Wonders

Artist Josh Simpson exhibits at Smithsonian Craft Show

Glass artist Josh Simpson turns one of his signature planet-like spheres after heating it in a  furnace.
Glass artist Josh Simpson turns one of his signature planet-like spheres after heating it in a furnace.

Glass artist Josh Simpson's fascination with the natural wonders of the universe is evident in his intricate platters, which resemble galaxies, as well as his one-of-a-kind planet-like spheres.

“All of my work has something to do with the perspective of either standing on Earth and looking up at the sky, or being in the sky and looking down at an earth-like planet or even a more fanciful little planet,” he says.

Smithsonian Craft Show

Like many U.S. artists, the Massachusetts-based Simpson exhibits at craft shows. His favorite is the most prestigious one of all, the Smithsonian Craft Show, which takes place each year in Washington.


However, gaining admittance to the Smithsonian craft show is a challenge. Out of 1,200 applicants, only about 120 artisans - representing everything from ceramics, glass, metal, furniture, wood and wearable art and jewelry - are selected each year.  

While Simpson has been applying for 30 years, this is only the third time he’s been accepted into the show.

“It’s probably easier to get into Harvard than it is to be accepted into this show,” he says.

Getting there

Then there is the challenge of getting there.

Forty-eight hours before opening night, Simpson’s brother, Kim, drove eight hours from the artist’s home in Massachusetts to Washington’s National Building Museum and began unloading the glass objects.

A tiny world, created by Josh Simpson, is priced at $125 with a stand.
A tiny world, created by Josh Simpson, is priced at $125 with a stand.


The brothers spent the next day unpacking and setting up their booth.

“I actually like this sort of an event because I get immediate feedback from people who walk by my exhibit space," Simpson says, "…and I can get a nice response from people usually, and that’s very good for me as an artist.”

Craft shows like the Smithsonian are also a great place to meet potential buyers.

“For me, my art is the actual glass…but with each piece of glass that you purchase," says Simpson, "you also get me."

Simpson hopes his art serves as a source of inspiration.

“I hope it evokes some of the excitement and the thrill that I’ve gotten seeing Hubble Space Telescope images.”

Simpson's wife, astronaut Cady Coleman, after returning from the International Space Station in May 2011.
Simpson's wife, astronaut Cady Coleman, after returning from the International Space Station in May 2011.


Celestial inspiration

Simpson himself is inspired by his wife, Cady Coleman, an astronaut with NASA who has traveled into space three times.

While Simpson had been making glass planets long before he met Coleman, their shared interest in outer space has enhanced his work.

“She brought back thousands of pictures and those pictures help inform what I do," says Simpson.

Kathleen White Koehrsen, a volunteer at the Smithsonian show, fell in love with one of Simpson’s creations

“When I saw his pieces, I was drawn to them, particularly his blues because they’re so bright and they pull you into the complexity of the glass,” she says.

Despite the odds, Simpson hopes to be back again next year. “I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that I’ll get in.”

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