"Stillness on Pivot Point”

Glass Acts

  To call the pieces featured in “Contrasts” mere “glass” would be a vast understatement. These works by local artists Jane Callen and Janet Wittenberg are alive with meaning, depth and astonishing beauty. The show…


To call the pieces featured in “Contrasts” mere “glass” would be a vast understatement. These works by local artists Jane Callen and Janet Wittenberg are alive with meaning, depth and astonishing beauty.

The show is a first for the artists, who are also friends and neighbors. While both work in glass, the means to their ends are entirely different, thus the show’s title. Callen works in hot glass from the furnace, and Wittenberg primarily uses the kiln.

“Trail of Tears”
[/media-credit] “Trail of Tears”

Grace Peterson, a painter, curated the collection. “I love the medium and wanted the gallery to exhibit more glass,” she said. “Before I joined Waverly Street Gallery, I worked in stained glass for years—in the area of ‘flat’ or cold glass–so glass has always fascinated me. I am truly entranced by the colors and their transparency.”

A visit to “Contrasts” is a thrill for the senses, as well as an education in how art glass is made. “Janet works in ‘warm’ glass,” says Peterson, “and Jane works in ‘hot’ glass.” The difference? Warm glass involves heating the glass in a kiln. Hot glass works with a direct flame. Glass blowing is the most familiar hot glass medium, which is completely different from stained glass or leaded glass, which is a cold glass process.

To the beholder, the art glass of “Contrasts” does not appear hot or cold. The stars of this show generate a list of much more colorful adjectives.

Wittenberg, a resident artist at Glen Echo Park and an instructor at the Art Glass Center, described her art as “liquid/solid, opaque/transparent, soft/hard, smooth/rough, hot/cold, compliant/combative, seductive/repellant, mysterious/apparent, friend/adversary…. These are contrasting qualities of glass that have seduced me.”

“Swirling on Pivot Point”
[/media-credit] “Swirling on Pivot Point”

Callen spoke of her work in the context of life and her work in hospice care, “One of the key elements for me is being unwedded to a fixed definition and outcome of blown glass. Take fire to sand to yield a liquid, from hot to cold, movement to stillness, life to death–my breath takes shape as an ephemeral vessel. I see deep similarities between art and the work I do…. the fragility of life, which exists only in this moment; the interconnectedness of all beings; the spirit as a temporary visitor in a vessel that ultimately dies, releasing breath back into endless sky.”

One can’t help but wonder about the logistics behind glass art. Callen painted this picture: “Blowing glass…generally cannot be done at home since it involves large equipment, very high temperatures (in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit), and plenty of opportunities for explosions and fires. Instead, I blow at the studio at Glen Echo and at Corning Museum of Glass.” For a few weeks at a time, Callen puts in 15-hour days in the “hot shop.”

Callen lived in Japan for a time as a child where she saw the glass blowers of Ryukyu working with recycled soda, whiskey and beer bottles, a practice born of the island’s post-World War II poverty. “I was captivated by the glassblowers’ skill transforming molten ‘trash’ into art. [Their] irregularities, to me, only made them more beautiful and authentic.”

“Prairie Sunrise”
[/media-credit] “Prairie Sunrise”

Wittenberg said she “became smitten with kiln-formed glass after taking my first workshop. Fortunately, it meshed well with my lifestyle. I was able to spend time creating glass art in my home studio, while juggling child care duties.”

So how and why did the work of these two women converge? “Every once in a while, I would ask each one to consider having a show at our venue,” Peterson recalled. “At one point, I suggested they consider a joint exhibit and after some thought, they agreed. That was a year ago.”

“At the gallery’s February Invitational show, [Jane and Janet’s] work was very popular with our visitors,” Peterson added. “We have had a few exhibits of glass artists in the past and their shows are very well attended.”

“Contrasts” will be on view at the Waverly Street Gallery, 4600 East-West Highway, a co-operative of local artists, through Oct. 8. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m., with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 9. Call 301-951-9441 or visit waverlystreetgallery.com.