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Nature, art, and glass: A delicate balance at Schantz Galleries
Raven Skyriver, Entangle, 2017. Off hand sculpted glass, 32 x 12 x 18". Photo:

STOCKBRIDGE, MASS.- Schantz Galleries is presenting an exhibition of three renowned glass artists: Paul Stankard, Kelly O’Dell, and Raven Skyriver. All three are deeply in tune with their environment and demonstrate how growing up surrounded by nature can truly get into one’s soul. All three also have a deep appreciation for glassmaking and the unique qualities that make glass a compelling medium for interpreting flora and fauna. More than keen observers of nature, they offer a visceral experience of the sublime but precarious beauty of the Earth. Their glass sculptures immerse us in nature, allowing us to contemplate our mortality and encouraging us to change our way of being in the world.

Paul Stankard combined his early career in industrial glass with his love of poetry, wildflowers, and floral paperweights to become a pioneer in the field of flameworking. Stankard’s process—using a torch with pincers, pliers, and other tools to precisely manipulate colorful, thin rods of glass—is about more than just making things. It is a spiritual exercise that brings the artist closer to the essence of nature. The monastic notion of laborare est orare (to labor is to pray) guides Stankard to see the miraculous in the ordinary. Diminutive and detailed meditations, his paperweights display not only a flower’s elegant countenance but the brimming underbelly beneath the soil, paying homage to what Stankard has termed “the mystery of unseen energy and the fecundity of nature.”

Veneration of nature also defines glass artists Kelly O’Dell and Raven Skyriver, who live and work together in Washington. O’Dell was raised in Hawaii, where the arts and the lush environment were woven into her upbringing. Skyriver grew up on Lopez Island, in the Pacific Northwest, in deep communion with nature. They met while working together on William Morris’ team of glass artists in northern Seattle.

Kelly O’Dell sees nature in the long view—its far-reaching past, its captivating present, and its precarious future. O’Dell mimics the fossilized impressions of extinct sea creature in panels, liquid glass melting like a massive glacier, suspending shell slices in perpetuity. She also revives these species in glorious dimensions. Glass is blown and sculpted, then carved to move light effortlessly through helix-like forms. O’Dell also brings this amalgam of scientific accuracy and artistic license to endangered creatures of today and contrasts this with the extinct ammonites, concerned that human impact on the natural world will mimic history’s astronomical disasters. O’Dell’s glass pieces memorialize nature’s lost glories, endeavor to forestall future destruction, and contemplate the universal life cycle of life, death, and renewal.

Raven Skyriver brings awareness to the fragility of the ecosystem and the risk of endangerment in his breathtaking glass animals. Icons of the Pacific Northwest such as whales, tortoises, seals, and salmon feature prominently in his vocabulary, along with ancient shelled creatures and undulant octopuses.

“Entangle” depicts a humpback whale entangled in crab gear. The global estimate by leading researchers is 300,000 cetaceans (Whales and dolphins) are killed due to entanglement each year. Entanglement is caused by two things Marine debris such as “ghost nets” or active fishing gear. The majority of entanglement is caused by the latter. Crab and lobster fisheries use traps that are marked and retrieved with a buoy and strong line. The line from each trap runs through the entire water column. The density of these traps in coastal regions where cetaceans forage, and migrate create a gauntlet that few escape unscathed.

At the turn of the 19th century the global whale populations where greatly diminished due to the whaling fishery. It seems ironic that today although protected internationally, they are still jeopardized by human blunder. While promising research is being done to modify traps and fishery practices, this is an expensive and unfamiliar transition for an industry that has operated the same way for generations

Skyriver expertly manipulates glass to express different textures—soft mat seal fur, rough patchy tortoise skin, glistening chromatophore’s cells, iridescent carapaces. The inherent viscosity of glass, its ability to morph in shape and color, and its seeming weightlessness as light filters through and around it, make it the ideal instrument for Skyriver.

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