Glass Artist Mingles Modern, Rococo

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Applying flame to vintage glass, Amber Cowan creates her sculptures. Courtesy of Amber Cowan

Is modern design always minimal? Does it have to be all about today and not yesterday? Not when a talented artist like Amber Cowan aims hot flame at antique glass.

At the compact Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco’s trendy but still rough hewn Dogpatch neighborhood, Cowan is showing some amazing work that at first looks more Victorian than modern, almost Rococo in fact, in its curlicues and its exuberance, cornucopias of forms spilling forth from almost every piece.

Still, there’s something about this work that is as today as it gets. And it’s not just that Cowan, an artist in Philadelphia, is recycling. Or that, in one piece, the glass bursts from a gallery wall like shards, like some monstrous type of hair.

Cowan uses old milk glass and pressed glass, often gathered from flea markets and thrift stores, as well as “post-production factory runs from cullet (scrap glass) dumps,” in the words of the museum.

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'Sky Blue,Cobalt and Slag,' at the Museum of Craft and Design. Photo by Dave Weinstein

What’s modern, or perhaps post-post-modern, is the humor and irony in her work, which seems at times to be a commentary on the fussy designs that a lot of this recycled glass was once used to create.

Her flowery forms can come across as writhing tentacles as much as petals, or like spikes. And how about those brown beady eyes staring at the viewer from a pair of creatures in one work that is otherwise entirely milky white ?

More than art though, what Cowan does is craft, in the best sense of the word. You wonder how she creates these works, and that wonder adds to the art experience.

These works cannot be easy to make. They’re hard to forget. Thanks to the Museum of Craft and Design for organizing this show, which is up through January 4.

'The Lion and the Fox,' each with eyes that glow, at the Museum of Craft and Design. Photo by Dave Weinstein .

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