March 28 - May 7, 2007
In the early 1970s some very enthusiastic and curious art students managed to create a primitive glass studio at Kean College. At that time, energy, determination and naïveté may have been their most outstanding talents. Heavy bricks and burners were donated and hauled by the students and assembled into a functional gas furnace. Among this highly motivated group, captured by the moment, Kathleen Mulcahy had her first experience with hot glass. That original studio was located in the same area where today the Kean University Art Gallery features Mulcahy’s current exhibition titled Natural Forces, on view March 28th through May 7th 2007. In 1972, the young artist went on to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University, still known as one of the most prestigious glass programs in the United States. That is where I first became aware of Kathleen Mulcahy, since I also was an art student there at that time. This exhibition celebrates the achievements of this honored alumna at mid-career.
For Kathleen Mulcahy, her glass works embody characteristics of nature. While forces of nature govern the environment we live in, movement of water, wind, and repeated shifts of temperature over time, shape the landscape we often take for granted. Likewise, the artworks in this installation have been transformed by intense heat. In order to soften and melt glass, a furnace must reach white-hot temperatures exceeding 2300 degrees Fahrenheit. Mulcahy uses traditional glass blowing techniques to make the lung shaped vessel forms in the Vapor Series.
Because working with glass is physically demanding, I am constantly aware of my body and my breath as I create a form. I must be fully engaged in the process – even a second in glass is important because things change in the heat in a moment. The skin of a blown glass form moves slowly as it begins to soften. I want to still these moments.
Other wall pieces start with large sheets of commercial glass, up to four feet wide, which have been slowly heated to alter their shape. Together, heat and gravity slump sheet glass to new life. Later they are etched and mounted on corroded steel frames. These works require a mastery of material and a focused aesthetic vision.
In the 1980s Kathleen Mulcahy directed glass programs at Bowling Green State University and Carnegie Mellon University. Since then she has worked independently outside of Pittsburgh, focusing her energy on her own artwork. As I approached the property of Kathleen Mulcahy I knew I had encountered an artist’s environment. The spacious studio and angular home rest on a hillside surrounded by fruit trees, berry bushes, beautiful flowers and random objects of art. Mulcahy insists that it had been a piece of land nobody wanted, but for the past twenty-five years she and her husband have made it their own creative paradise. To work in glass you need space, big equipment and furnaces. Every kind of grinder, torch, cutter and kiln you can imagine lies waiting to assist the artist in the birthing process of her next artworks – when materials transform – from the idea stage to the must exist stage. Strewn about the studio are works-in-progress, unfinished pieces of glass and steel. It is an inspired clutter.
Kathleen Mulcahy has won many fellowships, honors and awards including the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright to Italy. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. Additionally, she was an invited participant at the World Crafts Council, in Kyoto and was an artist in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts, in Paris.
There is something in my work that asks you to pay attention to the small things and to find the expressive point that connects that deep sense of wonder in the human experience…[that connects us] to each other.
Kathleen Mulcahy has a deep devotion to building better communities through exposure to the arts. She and her husband Ron Desmett co-founded the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which opened in 2001. It is a fabulous facility for people of all levels of interest in glass art. Through public programs, exhibitions, classes, workshops and visiting artists, the Pittsburgh Glass Center demonstrates the power of art in the Pittsburgh community.
Director of University Galleries