ST. PETERSBURG — When Canadian artist Stephen Pon pulled his 6-foot sculpture Tower of Babel from the kiln at the Duncan McClellan Gallery in March, it had been weeks in the making.
Pon used a lost-wax technique to make it, a lengthy process that involved sculpting wax figures of men climbing in a semi-chaotic manner up a tower-shaped form. It took weeks.
Eventually, the glass sculpture went into a large kiln at McClellan’s gallery, where it stayed for 17 days. Pon employed the help of a few others to take the sculpture out of the kiln and break the mold encasing it in water, very carefully. Then it took hours to clean the piece.
Pon is one of many artists from around the world who come to St. Petersburg to work in glass art, and specifically at McClellan’s gallery, which has helped turn the city into a mecca for glass art and establish the Warehouse Arts District.
The gallery not only showcases dazzling glass creations and provides glassblowing demonstrations to tens of thousands of viewers both onsite and on location, it is also the home of an artist residency program.
Pon was here in March, and his residence coincided with the exhibition “Masters of the North,” which showcased his work and that of other Canadian artists, curated by his wife, Fabienne Carbonneau.
With Tower of Babel, Pon said, he tried to create confusion over whether the figures are trying to help each other. He said he explores humanity through his works that feature intricate figures.
The artist-in-residence program provides career mentoring to emerging and professional artists who apply on a project-to-project basis. It attracts them due in part to the gallery’s massive kiln, where large-scale sculptures can cook for weeks.
McClellan said the residence program is important for artists because studio costs have risen to astronomical levels, and many studios closed due to the pandemic. The residency covers most of an artist’s costs, although in some cases artists pay for some materials.
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The gallery also recently partnered with St. Petersburg’s Florida CraftArt to host a collaboration between artists Natalie Tyler and Kiki Dufault.
Tyler and Dufault were the artists in residence in May, coinciding with the exhibition “The Alchemy of Art” at Florida CraftArt, curated by Elizabeth Brincklow and Mary Childs. Tyler’s cast glass sculptures are on display in that show, and her piece “Eagle’s Nest” was awarded first place.
Tyler lives in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts but originally hails from California. She invited Dufault, a San Francisco-based abstract painter, to collaborate with her during the residency. Two small pieces resulting from their collaboration are on display at Florida CraftArt, and they worked on a large-panel glass painting that was partially revealed during a recent artist talk at McClellan’s gallery.
Dufault said working in glass was a new way to work with color and to see the way light moves through transparency rather than reflecting the way it does with paint.
Color also becomes suspended in the glass, making it three-dimensional, Tyler said. She described a happy accident of sorts in which they thought the glass was clear, but as the different glasses mixed together — bubbling up and melting down — they reacted to each other, resulting in surprising colors.
Thinking about their larger pieces, which were still cooling in the kiln, Tyler said they experimented with color schemes.
“It was an alchemy of art in a way because we were looking for that reaction.”
Dufault added: “I’m super excited and very eager ... because we haven’t yet seen the end result from our collaboration itself.”
Guests got a very brief sneak peek at the piece after a dramatic opening of the kiln, as the giant lid rolled up.
The artists decided the piece needed more time to cure, so they were going to bring the temperature up again. About two weeks later, after Tyler and Dufault had returned home, the pieces were ready to be unloaded.
Hot shop staff members Kevin Daigle and Raymon Love pulled the large panels from the kiln.
McClellan helped clean the piece after it was removed. It’s available for sale at McClellan’s gallery, where more residencies are on the horizon.
Where to view glass art created during residency
Duncan McClellan Gallery, 2342 Emerson Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Free. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday-Saturday, all other hours by appointment only. “Masters of the North” remains on display through the summer. 1-855-436-4527. dmglass.com. “The Alchemy of Art” remains on view at Florida CraftArt through June 24. Free. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-821-7391. floridacraftart.org.