Until the 1960s, most decorative glass was made by teams of factory workers using large furnaces to create molten glass. Tiffany and Steuben are among the best known brands.
But then along came art professor Harvey Littleton and chemist Dominick Labino, who together transformed the peek-a-boo medium into a whole new means of self-expression.
In 1962, the two men held a historic glassblowing workshop at the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art, giving birth to the American Studio Glass movement.
Their techniques using small, inexpensive furnaces unleashed a new form of freedom for artists: Glass could now be melted and worked on in private studios.
Syd Entel Galleries & Susan Benjamin Glass, a gallery on Safety Harbor's Main Street, is paying tribute to the movement with a new exhibition, "50 Years and Beyond." Featuring the works of more than 100 glass artists, the show is the largest glass exhibit ever for the business. The entire 5,500-square-foot gallery sparkles with the art form.
"This is the first time we've had glass spread throughout the entire gallery," said owner Susan Benjamin, daughter of Syd Entel and lover of glass. "I asked each artist to send me their best and freshest pieces to feature and got a very good response."
Pieces of glass in all colors of the rainbow will tickle, fascinate and mesmerize.
Like the 4-foot, 5-inch South African tribal dolls sporting humorous expressions and sprightly jewelry.
Or the fanciful party teapots by a former French pastry chef.
Or perhaps the botanicals sprouting tiny human hands.
And while the creators of these pieces — Gavin Heath, Christian Thirion and Victor Chiarizia — may not yet be household names, they are part of a new, up-and-coming generation of independent studio artists who compose the American Studio Glass Movement.
Benjamin said she was taken by how well the glass pieces complemented the artwork on the wall.
"I set them up by style and color and I was blown away by how well it all came together," she said.
Asian, European, traditional, whimsical, culinary and contemporary looks are featured throughout the gallery.
Visitors will see pieces that will look fitting in homes, offices, museums and businesses. They will likely admire the painstaking detail and imagination that go into each piece.
And perhaps realize how precarious an art form glass really is.
"They say in the field of glassblowing, artists lose one of every three pieces they make," Benjamin said.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]
Check it out before you go: Susan Benjamin shows off the exhibit at tampabay.com/video