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 Harvey Kline Littleton  (1922 - 2013)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin/North Carolina      Known for: studio glass sculpture, vitreographs, ceramics, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
Harvey K Littleton
from Auction House Records.
"Implied Movement" glass sculpture, USA, 1987
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of Harvey Littleton.

Harvey K. Littleton, Pioneer in Glassworks, Dies at 91
Published: January 4, 2014
Harvey K. Littleton, an artist who helped found the so-called studio glass movement in the United States, developing and teaching do-it-yourself techniques that freed glassblowing from the cumbersome protocols of factory production and made molten glass almost as easy to work with in the studio as wet clay, died on Dec. 13 in Spruce Pine, N.C. He was 91.

His death, which had not been widely reported, was confirmed by his daughter Carol Shay.

Mr. Littleton achieved equal renown as an artist and as a torchbearer for the movement he fomented. His own work has been displayed in museums all over the world and includes the first pieces of modern glasswork acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Amber Crested Form and Amber Twist, both purchased in 1977. The studio glass program he founded in 1963 at the art school of the University of Wisconsin at Madison — it began in a studio in his garage — is widely considered to have been the first college-level course offered in the United States in the ancient art of glassblowing. His students included future luminaries of the movement like Marvin Lipofsky and Dale Chihuly.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Mr. Littleton scoured the world to assemble the apparatus and knowledge he needed to melt glass beads in a backyard furnace and then to make art by himself, breaking with the glassblowing tradition in which three or four apprentices assisted a craftsman.

At the time, at large factories like Steuben Glass Works in upstate New York and at the small ones of Murano, in Italy, fine glassmaking was a collaborative effort: an artist gave his design or model to the factory, and glassmakers reproduced it. But with grants and fellowships and financing from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, Mr. Littleton devised a one-man glass production line.

His friend Dominick Labino, an aspiring artist who was also a research scientist at the Johns-Manville Corporation near Toledo, designed the small brick furnace Mr. Littleton used and helped him acquire an ample supply of low-temperature melting-point glass beads.

Mr. Littleton attracted attention when he demonstrated the process on the grounds of the Toledo Museum in 1962. For the next two years he traveled around the country accepting invitations from artist groups and college art departments interested in seeing it for themselves.

In a phone interview, Joan Falconer Byrd, Mr. Littleton’s biographer, said Mr. Littleton “considered himself an evangelist of sorts.” He believed, she explained, that making his own glasswork was not enough to kindle the level of interest the medium deserved. “He knew there had to be many artists, many galleries, college courses — a whole infrastructure — for studio glass to become a movement,” she said.

Since Mr. Littleton started the glasswork program at the University of Wisconsin, she said, dozens more have been founded, most of them by his former students.

Harvey Kline Littleton was born to Jesse and Bessie Littleton on June 14, 1922, in the shadow of glass, in Corning, N.Y. His father, a physicist, was director of research at Corning Glass Works and a developer of Pyrex.

Harvey Littleton expressed an early interest in art — and in the possibilities of glass art — but his father urged him to study physics when he entered the University of Michigan. He did so for two years, then was drafted.

After serving in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, Mr. Littleton returned to Michigan in 1945, switched his major to industrial design — a compromise struck with his father, he said — and graduated in 1947.

He worked for a time as an industrial designer, but quit to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where he received a master of fine arts degree in 1951, thanks to the G.I. Bill, which had paid his tuition.

“There were 10 million of us who came back” from the war, he said in an interview, “and suddenly free of our parents, we could go to the university, and we didn’t have to compromise.”

Writing in The New York Times Magazine in 1976, the novelist Beth Gutcheon described Mr. Littleton as the leader of “a small revolution” in glasswork “that has grown into an American design movement of international importance.”

Besides his daughter Carol, he is survived by another daughter, Maurine; two sons, Thomas and John; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife of 62 years, Bess Tamura Littleton, died in 2009.

Mr. Littleton was a member of the art faculty at the University of Wisconsin from 1952 until 1977, when he was named a professor emeritus and moved to North Carolina. He had been well known as a ceramics artist before switching to glasswork.

In a 1999 oral history interview for the Archives of American Art, he compared the centuries-old glassblowing technique craftsmen used in factories with the method he used and taught others. In the old system, he said, “they were taught to make each piece exactly like the previous one.”

“Our training,” he added, “teaches someone to make each piece different.”

This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Harvey Littleton (b. 1922, Corning, New York)

Harvey Littleton has been called “the father of the Studio Glass Movement.”  In 1962 Littleton led a glassblowing workshop at the Toledo Museum of Art that successfully introduced the idea that glass could be mixed and melted, blown and worked in the studio by individual fine artists. Up to that time it was widely believed that glass objects could only be made in the highly structured, mass-produced world of the glass industry, where the labor of making glass is divided between designers, skilled craftsmen and general laborers, and the cost of seeing a design from drawing through production is extravagantly expensive. 

Littleton received a BFA from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and was awarded the MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1951.  He first was a potter at first, receiving national recognition for his work in an exhibition sponsored by the American Crafts Council and international notice at the First International Exposition of Ceramics in Cannes, France. Starting in 1959 Littleton began to investigate the possibility of glass as a medium, and in 1960 had melted glass and cold-worked lumps of cullet.  After the successful workshop in Toledo Littleton, who had been employed in 1951 as a ceramics teacher at the University of Wisconsin, began to offer glassblowing classes through the University at his farm outside Madison, Wisconsin in the fall of 1962.  In 1963 he established a graduate course and glass studio at the University of Wisconsin that subsequently attracted Marvin Lipofsky and Dale Chihuly, as well as many other now-prominent glass artists, as students.  Museum recognition for Littleton’s own work in glass began early, with solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago (1963) and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York (1964).  His work has been collected by American Craft Museum, New York City; Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design, Smithsonian Institution, New York; Corning Museum of Glass, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts; Los Angeles County Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC and The White House, Washington DC among many others.  

Littleton retired from teaching in1976 to devote all of his time to his art. He moved to Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where he set up his glass studio and produced his most technically demanding and beautiful series of works: the sinuous Lyrical and Implied Movement groups, Descending forms and exuberant  Crowns composed of multiple soaring arcs.  At the same time that he was working with hot glass, Littleton installed an etching press with which he could print vitreographs. 

Vitreography is an experimental printmaking technique of fixing images on glass plates, inking them and printing them onto paper.  Littleton pioneered the technique in a cold working techniques seminar he taught at his farm in the summer of 1974.  Sponsored by Corning Glassworks, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin, part of the seminar was devoted to resists for sandblasting.  A sand blasted piece of plate glass, later known as Trial II, was created during the seminar by Littleton using a resist of hot glue. It was the first vitreograph to be successfully printed by Littleton’s friend, printmaking professor Warrington Colescott, who inked and proofed it at Littleton’s request. 

Vitreography proved to be such fertile ground for Littleton’s inquisitive nature that at the end of 1981 he hired a full time master printer and encouraged glass artists who visited his studio to try their hands at making prints.  Over the years Littleton has invited many other artists, painters and printmakers, as well as glass artists and sculptors, to create vitreographs at Littleton Studios.

Information courtesy of The Littleton Collection

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Corning, New York, Harvey Littleton has had a long career as an educator and glass blower and has served on the Board of Trustees of the Pilchuck School in Washington.  In 2004, he was living in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

From 1949 to 1951, he was instructor of ceramic art in Ohio at the Toledo Museum Art School of Design, and from 1951-1977, he was professor of art in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, serving as Chair of the Department from 1964 to 1967 and 1969 to 1971.

He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Design from the University of Michigan; studied in England at the Brighton School of Design, and then earned a Master of Fine Arts Degree at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Exhibition venues include the Johnson Wax Collection, 1969-1972; Corning Museum of Glass 1979-1981; and retrospectives at the Mint Museum in 1979 and 1999-2001, and the Smithsonian in 1984.

Who's Who in American Art, 2003-2004

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