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Pioneering Cold Worked Glass: David Huchthausen’s Mysterious Fourth Dimension

Talking Out Your Glass podcast

Release Date: 11/03/2023

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Talking Out Your Glass podcast

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Talking Out Your Glass podcast

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The emitted light from a David Huchthausen sculpture is an artwork unto itself. For the last five decades plus, the artist has been captivating viewers through sculpture defined by its unique and other-worldly manipulation of light. A critic once described his work as “high tech spiritual,” an observation the artist rather liked.

Huchthausen once stated: “Creation is a continual and evolutionary process, constantly digesting and reevaluating past experiences and current perspectives. My work has always been deliberately enigmatic and mysterious. I constantly strive to generate a strange and curious quality that both tantalizes and challenges the viewer to develop his own response system. The work must have an existence of its own if it is to have any real significance.”

Huchthausen was one of the first artists of the Studio Glass Movement to emphasize cold working and fabrication techniques such as cutting, sawing, laminating, and optical polishing. Within his most recent crystal-clear geometric forms, the artist integrates complex shapes, concave lenses and intricate color panels, reflecting and refracting light as it hits the shapes and projecting colored glass patterns into the fractures and lenses below. Huchthausen’s sculptural narrative has always been enigmatic by design, challenging the viewer with its curious and unknowable quality.

Ferdinand Hampson, co-founder of Habatat Gallery, wrote: “David Huchthausen is one of an elite group of artists who have altered the history of contemporary glass.  As a Fulbright scholar, university professor and museum consultant, his achievements over the past 50 years have played a vital role in the evolution of the material into a fine art form.  

“As an architecture student at the University of Wisconsin, Huchthausen gravitated toward the sculpture department, working with welded steel, wood and found objects. In 1970 he discovered an abandoned glass furnace in the corner of an old brewery building on the Wausau campus. After six months of struggling, he learned of Harvey Littleton’s work in Madison 150 miles to the south.  Once contact had been established, Huchthausen’s career moved with rapid strides. He served as Littleton’s graduate assistant in the early 1970s, ran the Illinois State University Glass Program during Joel Myers’ sabbatical in 1976 and lectured throughout Europe as a Fulbright scholar in 1977 and 1978. During this period, he established vital links between European and American artists and galleries, organizing numerous exhibitions in both the United States and Europe. As curatorial and acquisitions consultant for the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, he conceived and developed Americans In Glass. This important series of exhibitions in 1978, 1981 and 1984 documented the evolution of American Studio Glass from its early emphasis on blown forms and hot working to the explosion of sculptural and conceptual concerns of the mid 1980s. The landmark 1984 exhibition traveled to museums across Europe and provided the first major review of any glass exhibition by Art In America.

“As an educator and art professor, Huchthausen has been a significant influence on a generation of glass artists. He was one of the first Americans to emphasize coldworking in the early 1970s.  Large sculptural constructions such as Spider’s Nest, which combined hot-worked, cast, and architectural glass elements, stand as historical landmarks of the period. Many of the specialized fabrication techniques he pioneered are widely used by other artists today.

“Throughout his career, Huchthausen has remained a strong advocate of increased aesthetic criticism of contemporary glass. His outspoken and often controversial positions have helped articulate a basis for today’s increased level of critical dialog. As an artist Huchthausen has consistently maintained a high degree of integrity in his work.  Limiting production to 12 to 15 pieces each year, he devotes several months to the development and creation of each sculpture.  Even within a specific series the images are extremely unique, furthering his evolution of the concept without letting it harden into a formula.

“Huchthausen’s background in architecture and personal fascination with primitive art and ritual, have remained strong influences over the years. He deliberately imbues his sculpture with an enigmatic quality, generating a strange and curious energy, which entices the viewer.  

“One unique aspect of Huchthausen’s sculpture is his innovative integration of glass and light, the concept that the projected images and patterns constitute an integral and inseparable component of the sculpture.  These ideas have their genesis in his large totemic forms of the early 1970s and have permeated his work to varying degrees throughout his career.  They were more fully explored in his mysterious Leitungs Scherben series of the 1980s, where transformed and altered patterns were projected with amazing clarity onto the surface beneath the piece. Huchthausen’s next body of work expanded on that foundation.

“The Adumbration and Implosion series (1991 – 1999) combine the integral color laminations that have become a trademark of his work, with massive blocks of crystal.  By juxtaposing the pristine optically polished surfaces with fractured jagged edges, Huchthausen created precariously balanced fragments alluding to a larger whole.  The colored shadow projections are directed into the heart of the piece, splashing colored light onto the fractures, radiating like translucent watercolors into pools of intense color.  Huchthausen creates an illusion of incredible complexity that appears and then vanishes as the viewer is drawn around the piece, only to reappear as the refracted image mutates and projects onto another plane.  The constantly shifting visual depth and dimensionality create new and unique views from every angle.  This use of the full 360-degree circumference of the piece sets Huchthausen apart from many artists, creating sculpture that is in perpetual visual motion.

“The Implosion sequence evolved into the Echo Chambers, which expanded on the use of hand polished lenses cut into the bases of the sculpture. These concave orbs reflected and distorted the geometric color patterns laminated onto the top of the sculpture, further enhancing the complexity of the illusionary space and creating a kaleidoscopic effect as the viewer moves.

“Huchthausen’s latest series of Spheres began after he read an article on the theoretical analysis of gravitational fields. The article described the three-dimensional universe that we perceive, as a holographic projection, generated by a two-dimensional field at the edge of infinity. The optical simplicity of the sphere permits an intimate exploration of the interior geometry. With the Spheres, Huchthausen has fully escaped the perception of three-dimensional space. His spheres have no top, bottom, up, down, front, or back; every axis point creates a unique visual perspective that is in a constant state of flux.”

Having participated in over 500 national and international exhibitions and included in 80 permanent museum collections, Huchthausen is considered a leader in both the glass specific and larger art worlds. His public collections include: The Corning Museum(NY); The Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, VA); The Detroit Institute of Arts (MI); The High Museum(Atlanta, GA); The Hokkaido Museum (Sapporo, Japan); The Los Angeles County Museum (CA); The Metropolitan Museum (New York, NY); The Museum of Fine Art (Dusseldorf, Germany)The Museum of Fine Arts (Lausanne, Switzerland)La Musée de Verre (Liège, Belgium); The Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.); The Tacoma Art Museum (WA); and many more. 

Today, Huchthausen creates sculpture from his Seattle studio. He has also renovated several historic buildings in the city, including the 150,000-square-foot Bemis Brothers Bag Building, where studio space is leased to other artists. Over his 53 years in glass, Huchthausen’s work has been documented in many books and catalogs. He is currently working on three new books to include Classic Motor Yachts 1910-1960 and Art Deco Glass: The Huchthausen Collection, as well as a book covering the history of his own sculpture. An exhibition of the artist’s Art Deco collection has been travelling for seven years.

On his way to Cebu in the Philippines where he escapes Seattle’s gray winter, Huchthausen spoke with TOYG about when he fell in love with light, how he uses glass in the telling of his stories and why his work remains relevant and collectible into the 21st century and beyond.