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William Morris: Myth, Object, and the Animal

January 29 - April 3, 2005


(above: William Morris, Canopic Jar)


Contemporary glass blower and avid outdoorsman William Morris looks to the past in creating his modern-day interpretations of Paleolithic artifacts, Egyptian canopic urns, African head adornments, and Native American pots. An exhibition of his glass sculptures, including large-scale, multi-piece, dazzlingly complex installations, opening January 29, 2005 at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, reflects Morris's fascination with ancient life and the relics and artifacts that tell ancient stories. (right: William Morris, Man Adorned)

"Myth, Object, and the Animal" also explores the artist's dexterity in manipulating glass and pushing it beyond the brilliance and sparkle associated with this fragile, naturally beguiling medium. Morris's work transcends craft, particularly in his ability to suggest textures as diverse as horn, bones, feathers, clay, bronze, and stone. Visitors may find it difficult to believe that glass can have the optical equivalence of these other more easily understood and recognizable materials. Such technological and artistic feats are among the characteristics that set Morris's work apart from other artists working in glass.

His "Trophy Panel" comprises a dozen glass skulls with variously shaped horns and antlers that emit a mythic force calling to mind the powers of Diana, Greek goddess of the hunt. In Morris's "Horse Panel," body parts -- including extended legs caught in mid-stride, rounded, curved flanks, and broad chests -- evoke the allure of the whole. Though no horse is fully fashioned, each glass fragment boldly takes its place in the equine pantheon.

Another extraordinary installation highlight is "Cache," which features glass elephant tusks assembled to take the shape of an ancient sailing vessel lined with forms that suggest human bones and war instruments.

In recent years Morris has increasingly used birds as messengers of his artistic expressions. James Yood, who teaches contemporary art theory and criticism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, writes, "While it would be too much to call these birds humanlike, it is not difficult to distinguish the broad range of emotion Morris imbues within them. Greed, hunger, power, aggression, and arrogant self-confidence are all suggested for our recognition."

Because the exteriors of Morris's glassware have relic-like surfaces reminiscent of archaeological finds, the temptation exists to think of his sculptures as being cast or molded. In fact, each work is blown glass created at the end of the blowpipe and fastidiously shaped freehand into complex forms to which surface designs and textures are embedded or added. He favors translucent, luminous colors that glow like a life force from within. These effects are further enhanced by dramatically lit galleries.

Born in Carmel, California, in 1957, William Morris was first a student of and then master gaffer for Dale Chihuly before striking off on his own to explore concepts such as spirituality, animism, mythology, and prehistory. Today, from Morris's studio in Stanwood, Washington, emerge glass sculptures that, when exhibited individually and in striking groupings, evoke cutting edge artistry coupled with technical prowess that take glass art to new heights.

The raw materials of glass and the artistry of blowing glass as interpreted by William Morris give rise to a slate of education programs during "Myth, Object, and the Animal." "Hot" and "glowing" aren't adjectives that typically come to mind when conjuring mid-March images of north central Wisconsin. So a piping-hot, portable glass-blowing studio setting up shop in Wausau at this time of year warrants attention. (right: William Morris, Trophy Panel)

This glass-blowing unit is warmly called "Aunt Gladys" and she's traveling from Southern Illinois University for "Fire & Ice," a March 13 - 20 residency at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. The weeklong program complements "Myth, Object, and the Animal."

The Woodson Art Museum is rolling out the red carpet for Aunt Gladys, a celebrity whose spitfire attitude and rosy glow promise to melt away the chill of winter from the Wisconsin River Valley landscape.

During "Fire & Ice" studio coordinator Jim Weiler and graduate students Mark Salsbury and Jeremy Griffith demonstrate the how's and explain the why's of contemporary glass blowing. The language, labor, and lustre associated with glassmaking are at the core of their performances, and the demonstrations and explanations are as much about science as they are about artistry.

How did Aunt Gladys get her name? Students in the School of Art and Design at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, coined this moniker because Gladys has phonetic similarities to "gas," used to heat her furnaces, and "glass," the end product of her labors.


Aunt Gladys Demonstrations

Demonstrations on Sunday, March 13, and Saturday and Sunday, March 19 - 20, begin on the hour from noon to 4 pm and last approximately 45 minutes. At the end of each demonstration cycle a glasswork will be presented to a lucky member of the audience.

On Monday through Friday, March 14-18, demonstrations take place from 9 am - 3 pm to accommodate school visits. The public is welcome to sit in on these demonstrations, too, but each day's precise schedule may vary slightly. Call the Museum for specifics or inquire upon arrival.


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