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Bringing Beauty and Wonderment of Glass in the World of Sculpture


Artists use a variety of materials for their creations -- paint on canvas, pencil on paper, metal or stone sculpted into life-like form. Still others create works totally unique from glass. VOA's June Soh met one such artist in Washington D.C. Amy Katz narrates the story.

Graham Caldwell is a sculptor who works with glass at his workshop in the Washington D.C. suburbs. "I have always loved water. It (glass) is kind of closest material that can get to water. The process of making glass is in itself fascinating just because of how glass behaves as a material. It moves kind of slowly. It gives off light. It is beautiful to look at while you are making it."

One look, during his college days, into Urban Glass, a well-known glass-blowing studio in Brooklyn, New York led Caldwell to where he is today at age 33. After a few hobbyist classes there, he enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he earned a degree in studio art with a specialty in glass.

"It is a strange material. And I think that is interesting and people like that. You can look at it and see through it at the same time. In most materials you can only look at it."

As strange as the material is, he admits, glass is not an easy medium to work with.

"Oh there are so many challenges. Its fragility, it is a huge challenge. The fact that so difficult to work with. It can break at any stage of the process. While you are making it, it can break. After you made it, it can break. During the transportation it can break. It is limited in scale by different factors like size of the chambers that you make it in."

Tossing around glass at 1,100 degrees Celsius in a workshop where the temperature gets as hot as 49 degrees Celsius, Coldwell says he has learned to tolerate burns.

"I get burned all the time. I got burns last week. The nice thing is most of the burns are superficial. They hurt momentarily but they kind of stop again."

Caldwell acknowledges that most people look at glass as a medium of crafts. But he makes a clear distinction between crafts and art. "To me the distinction between craft and art has to do with what is known and what is unknown. Craft is the world of sort of known, functional, historical. The world of art and the world of sculpture has to do with the unknown. That is why I am fascinated with it because what is unknown is far more compelling than what is known."

Each of Caldwell's works displayed at his recent exhibition at the G Fine Art Gallery in Washington D.C. is a cluster of many separate but similar parts. The individual pieces are not what is special. Caldwell says what matters is the overall effect of the installation; how the parts reflect off each other, and mirror the space and the viewer looking at them.

"I make parts. They don't make sense until they are together. They don't really come alive until you see how they are connected and created sculpture. The hardest part is coming up with an idea and the idea is good enough to survive."

Caldwell says he has tried other materials, but he always returns to glass. He says his main interest is in bringing the well-made object into the world of sculpture and conveying a sense of wonder and beauty through glass, like having an amusement park for the eyes.