The Wing Luke Museum’s current exhibition, “Dual Nature: Contemporary Glass and Jewelry” sets out to explore the parallel histories of glass and jewelry in the Pacific Northwest through the work of eight emerging and established Asian and API artists. It succeeds in delving deeper than a simple compare-and-contrast of the two media to reveal dualities of ethnicity and culture within each artist; the diversity of techniques and material properties in glass and metal; and layers of introspection and narrative in each work of art.
Six of the eight artists in the show left their birth countries to study and work as artists. The other two grew up in Hawaii but attended college and now live on the mainland. All are effectively bi- or multicultural. Ron Ho’s silver neckpieces embody his Chinese family’s history and customs. “Gum San Journey” is a whimsical vignette of his grandmother’s immigration to Hawaii, incorporating antique Chinese ceramic and silver artifacts. Boyd Sugiki’s glass vessels are shaped by a range of influences from classical European architecture to Japanese obos sculptures.
Two of the artists merge glass and jewelry in their work. Masami Koda’s “Splash in Dawn,” is an exuberant flower whose forged steel leaves and hollow glass petals seem to contradict the hardness of their materials. Eunsuh Choi also adopts a botanical form for “Enhancement III,” building twigs of clear glass into a branching tree-like neckpiece of dramatic scale. Vina Rust’s jewelry is inspired by botany at a cellular level, joining hundreds of tiny silver and gold tubes to build graceful forms that might be the cross sections of plants viewed through a microscope.
Her elegant structures can take the shape of a massive bracelet or a delicate earring. Midori Saito uses hardly any silver or gold in her jewelry, employing paper, wood, string, and resin to create casually naturalistic forms that could be plants or minerals found during a walk in the woods. Cynthia Toops’ expressive mosaic portraits and landscapes are composed of incredibly fine threads of polymer clay, framed in silver.
Of the four glass artists in the show, only Sugiki uses the familiar glass-blowing technique of heating glass in a furnace and inflating hollow vessels by blowing air through a tube into the molten glass. Choi and Koda do lampwork: forming, stretching, and connecting glass using a gas torch to keep it hot and malleable. Jeffrey Sarmiento creates architectural shapes by cutting glass sheet with a high-pressure stream of water, then fuses the pieces by heating them in a kiln. A small display of glass and metalworking tools loaned by the artists and the Pratt Fine Arts Center offers insight into the variety of techniques used by the artists.
Curator Hilary Lee has assembled a group of artists who all bring that rare combination of creativity, beauty, and technique. Despite the forty-year range in their ages, all are master artists. Lee has used the unusually sized and shaped spaces of the Tsutakawa Gallery effectively, to frame each artist’s work. Information panels on each artist reinforce the Northwest history of the two media. All of the glass artists have roots at the Pilchuck School founded forty years ago by Dale Chihuly. Ho, Rust, and Saito studied metalsmithing at the University of Washington, which produced internationally-known artists and a distinctive style of narrative metalwork over its 80-year history, before ending its metals program two years ago.
“Dual Nature: Contemporary Glass and Jewelry” is on view through January 15, 2012 at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, 719 S. King St., in Seattle. Information at (206) 623-5124 or www.wingluke.org.