When it comes to great cities for glass art, a few spring to mind. This country's epicenter for glass is Seattle, where the prestigious Glass Art Society formed in 1971.
But the most famous and prestigious is Murano, Italy, known for its rich history of glass making since the 13th century. The Glass Art Society held its 47th conference in Murano last year.
And this year, they're bringing it to St. Petersburg.
"Charting a Course: Visions in Glass" brings an international community of glass artists and collectors to the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront Thursday through Saturday, with activities at galleries, studios and museums throughout the city. Up to 1,000 people are expected.
If this seems surprising, consider how many galleries, museums, studios and artists dedicated to glass we have. The concentration of glass art from Naples to Tampa has led to a locally-coined nickname: the Glass Coast.
Still, Murano seems a tough act to follow. How does St. Petersburg measure up?
"When you want to compare it to Murano, which has a lot of hot shops, it's small, but for a city (in the U.S) other than Seattle, this is pretty good," said St. Petersburg glass artist and gallery owner Duncan McClellan.
Nine years ago, he opened his gallery in what is now the Warehouse Arts District around the same time Zen Glass moved into that neighborhood. And the Morean Art Center opened the Chihuly Collection and its own hot shop.
"There was a synergy that came together," he said. "It attracted even more attention in glass to St. Petersburg and now we need more people involved in glass to move here."
With the addition of the Imagine Museum in 2017, McClellan said the conference location makes sense.
The majority of conference activities will happen at those venues, including glassblowing and flamework demonstrations, and of course, stunning glass exhibitions from acclaimed national and international artists.
Conference activities in the Hilton include lectures, panels, opportunities for portfolio reviews, displays of glass suppliers, and an educational and professional resource center.
While it's too late to register for the conference, Florida residents can get day passes for $150 each day. And a number of events and glass exhibits are open to the public.
Officials from the Imagine Museum, the Chihuly Collection and Morean Arts Center teamed up to get the conference to come here. They sent a proposal to the Glass Art Society two years ago and after being accepted, began working to plan the conference.
"St. Pete's growing scene shows the future of glass, which is what the conference is exploring," said Tess McShane, the Glass Art Society's spokesperson.
The Glass Art Society held its conference in Tampa in 1999. There was far less glass art in the region, but the passion was there.
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Twenty years later, 11 venues in St. Petersburg are hosting glass exhibits during the conference, as well as two in Tampa and one in Clearwater.
And St. Petersburg's glass scene continues to grow. This year, Corey Hampson of Detroit's Habatat Gallery, the oldest and largest glass gallery in the country, opened the Hampson Gallery in St. Petersburg. He also curated the collection of the Imagine Museum. A Habatat pop up gallery (2828 Central Ave.) is open during the conference. And on Friday, the Edge district will unveil a new glass and steel public art by artist James Brenner.
Art conferences create a symbiotic relationship with a city, exposing the city's art scene to acclaimed artists and supportive collectors and vice versa.
"There's a sense of collaboration, of information and sharing and it brings attention to what's happening in that city," said Andy Schlauch, executive director of the Chihuly Collection and Morean Glass Studio. "The community of glass art is still a tightly-knit group and it's natural for them to get excited about any new center for glass and the Tampa Bay region and this coast."
Schlauch and Jane Buckman, executive director of the Imagine Museum, worked on the conference committee. Buckman previously worked at Ringling College organizing Glass Weekends, collectors' tours in conjunction with Habatat Gallery, that showcased Sarasota's glass art scene. Collectors from up north decided to move to the area because of the combination of weather and art, she said.
"We're even talking amongst ourselves to keep the momentum going," she said. "We'll have a follow up meeting in April and then what we're going to do is really move forward and plan a major glass weekend here on an annual basis that we can do ourselves."
SEE THE GLASS
The Duncan McClellan Gallery will be open to the public all week from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and be a part of Friday's Gallery Hop from 5-8:30 p.m. Glassblowing demonstrations are for conference passholders only. On display is a retrospective of work from Stephen Rolfe Powell, an esteemed artist and former society president who died last week. 2342 Emerson Ave. S. (855) 436-4527. dmglass.com.
Tuesday, artists Jack Gramman and Stephen Pon will give an artists' talk at Florida CraftArt (501 Central Ave.) They're included in the gallery's "Quest: A Celebration of Glass" exhibit curated by McClellan and Mary Childs. Free. 501 Central Ave. (727) 821-7391. floridacraftart.org.
On Wednesday, the Corning Museum of Glass will roll a mobile hot shop into the parking lot of the Imagine Museum. Artist Richard Jolley will give a demonstration, followed by a demonstration from the "St. Pete All Stars," as they create pieces for their Exquisite Corpse game. $25 includes light appetizers and beverages.
In addition to the Imagine Museum's permanent collection that traces the history of the studio glass movement, on display is "Karen LaMonte: Floating World" and "Shifting Sands: Glass Coast" featuring including local artists Trish Duggan, Chuck Boux and Catherine Woods. Check them out on Thursday at the museum's open house from 5-8 p.m. $5, or free with the conference badge.
Hear a lecture on glass as a fine art at the Imagine Museum on Friday, with curator William Wamus and artist Tim Tate from 2:30-4:30 p.m. $20. 1901 Central Ave. (813) 300-1700. imaginemuseum.com.
Friday, a gallery hop is free and open to the public from 5-8:30 p.m. This is a great time to visit the Morean Arts Center, where the "Visions in Glass: GAS Member and Student Exhibition" is on display. The Chihuly Collection has "Perspectives in Glass: A Science in Optics" featuring society artists from the conference. At 6 p.m., the MIT Glass Band will perform on handmade glass instruments. 719 and 700 Central Ave. moreanartscentenr.org.
Also during the gallery hop is the public art unveiling of James Brenner's glass and steel sculptures, called On Edge, at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and 16th Street. Followed by a reception and an exhibition of Brenner's work at the Leslie Curran Gallery. 1445 Central Ave. articlesstpete.com.
Zen Glass hosts Project 33 from Thursday to Saturday, a mobile glass unit that creates glass "coins" used as a form of currency accepted by a community of glass suppliers, distributors and artists. Friday, view "Seasons of Change" a body of work and film by LaceFace Glass, from 7:10-9:10 p.m. 600 27th St. S. (727) 323-3141. zenglass.com. Zen Glass is also hosting the World GAS Pop Up: Adventures in Tiny Town at Dan Painter's magical mini city on Friday. View works by Dosh, Wicked, Evol and Ghost. Free at 6 p.m., but $100 VIP begins at 4:20 p.m. and includes food and drinks and $100 credit toward any art piece. 2520 Emerson Ave. S. facebook.com/zenglass.
A silent auction at the St. Petersburg Hilton Bayfront is from 2-3 p.m. Saturday. Free and open to the public.
For a complete listing of events and exhibitions, visit glassart.org.