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The Great Glass Adventure

``Slump glass,'' explains one of the Western artists who is experimenting with it, ``is a sort of catchword for heated-up glass that has been bent, molded, or folded into various sculptural or vessel forms.'' New York consultant Carol Sedestrom, former director of American Craft Enterprises, the marketing arm of the American Craft Council, refers to slump glass as simply ``the next step'' in the continuing adventurous investigation of glass as a creative medium.

``It is a new direction,'' she explains, ``in an exuberant and highly competitive craft field that is exploding with new ideas. The kind of exploration we are now seeing is based on the fact that we haven't had a glass tradition in America. So nobody is being bound by tradition, and the field is wide open to experimentation. This means that studio-glass artists everywhere are pushing and striving to find new ways to express themselves through this malleable material.''

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The studio-glass movement has been particularly strong in California where it has captured the imagination of many craftsmen-artists, and where the response has been lively and encouraging.

At the Craftfair of the American Craft Council held here recently, several Western artists exhibiting their work discussed their involvement with slump glass. These artists will show again at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass., June 21-23.

Kurt and Marsha Runstadler are a husband and wife team who work together in Sacramento, Calif. ``We chose to work with glass in a constructivist method,'' Mr. Runstadler says, ``rather than in the more traditional techniques of melting and blowing. This allows us to make larger-scale pieces and to use materials that are readily available.

``We primarily use unaltered clear sheet glass, such as is used for windows and in picture frames, and commercially available tints in the fabrication of our work. It is our goal to expand the vocabulary of glass by using this commonplace material for artistic expression.''

``For everything that we make,'' he continues, ``we heat the glass to a certain temperature and then we remove it from the kiln and do all the shaping by hand so that we leave no mold marks.''

The self-taught Runstadlers began working in stained and etched glass in 1974. ``Then our stained-glass windows started becoming more and more sculptural. Finally, we were forming windows by bending pieces of glass to make three-dimensional shapes, so we simply evolved to the sculptural format for art pieces which we have followed now for the past six years.''

Today the couple not only show at ACC Craftfairs but are represented by a dozen galleries across the country, where their pieces bring prices ranging from $900 to $3,500, with a few large-scale sculptures demanding as much as $l5,000. Corporate commissions help keep them busy, too, including those from the Hilton and Sheraton hotel chains.

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Guy Corrie, whose studio is in Oakland, Calif., has been experimenting with slump glass for the last three years.

``I was interested in more nontraditonal vesselmaking,'' he explains. ``The flat glass offered me a way to make larger vessels less expensively because I didn't need elaborate equipment. Once I worked out the technical aspects, slump glass offered almost limitless possibilities for the making of vessels.''

Slump glass, he says, is a nice play on the material itself, and he has found the public's reception of the soft flowing contours of his vessels to be ``fantastic.'' Interior designers, architects, and private collectors, he says, are enjoying this broader range of glass objects.

Mr. Corrie's slump-glass pieces range in price from $500 to $2,500. He exhibits at four major art fairs a year and sells through several major galleries.

Larry M. Fielder, who lives and works in Velardi, N.M., just north of Santa Fe, explains that he was originally an architect and that the kinds of design aesthetics that he deals with in his slump glass are very architectural.

Mr. Fielder moved away from the practice of architecture, he says, because of its boom-or-bust cycles.

``I had determined before I left the field, however, that what I had enjoyed most was working with my hands with materials. I got started working with silk screening and stained glass and eventually evolved into slump-glass sculptural art forms, for which I built my own equipment and developed my own techniques. I tried not to be influenced by what other glass artists were producing, and now I don't see others working in the way that I do.''

Mr. Fielder does a lot of work at his drawing board, using layers of tracing paper to first evolve his designs in sketch form. He then fabricates a mold over which he will bend the glass, heated in the kiln to 1,300 degrees F., to obtain his initial three-dimensional shape. For this process he uses regular quarter-inch thick clear plate glass. He shapes the pieces by grinding, and sandblasts as surface treatment.

``My pieces'' he explains, ``tend to be made up of multiple parts which I assemble by means of glue, nuts, and bolts. It means I can get right angles and straight lines and certain other geometric shapes, which many interior designers seem to like.''

Mr. Fielder's vessels run from $400 to $600 and other pieces from $150 to $200. He markets through designer showrooms as well as through the ACC fairs. He also travels all over the country doing workshops, teaching techniques and how to build and use glass kilns.

``If I make minimum wage I feel fortunate,'' he says, ``but I am free to develop my craft, and I have slowly and painstakingly built my own adobe home, so I feel rich.''

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