Contemporary Terrain: Glass Artists from the Mountain State at Nutting Gallery

West Virginia has a rich history in glassmaking—I had no idea the depths of this until I had the opportunity to take an exhibition design class with WVU history professor Melissa Bingmann to help research for an exhibit with the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum Curating Glass from the Mountain State housed on WVU’s campus (the exhibit, Molded in the Mountains: The Glass Industry in West Virginia, is now up through June of 2017 at the Museum).


Amongst my research I realized that though perhaps some of the business and industry had to slow down due to reasons you can read about in the exhibit aforementioned, artists seemed to take the glassmaking tradition, put their personable twists on it, and move the craft to the contemporary, and many artists around here continue to do so!

As the class continued and the exhibition came to fruition, I found myself most intrigued by what working West Virginia artists were doing today with glass, and the Watts’ curators saw that and invited me to curate a satellite exhibition in conjunction with their main historical one.

I wanted to organize an exhibit not only of contemporary, conceptual artists challenging the media and perception thereof, but with respect to artists continuing the traditions of glass blowing, etching and painting in their own way, to showcase the breadth of talent amongst the whole state.

To be sure, I was nervous, as well—though I have curated several exhibits in the past, most of my experience is with media less breakable!—painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics on pedestals, or even performance, literary art, that which is not fragile. Moreover, in my graduate studies at WVU in art history, I did not really come across many artists working with glass as a main media and perhaps such experience had led to a subconscious bias or in the least, lack of knowledge for seeing the potential in the craft. Then, I had new interest in the two featured glassworks in the galleries of the Art Museum of WVU which inspired more discourse and excitement for my research, and the glassworks at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and a new welcome eye to glass for other travels.

With research, travel and recommendations, I came to nine artists who together provide a keen perspective of the happenings of artists currently creating with glass in West Virginia.

I started with one closest to me in Morgantown—an artist I had admired since moving to the area three years ago from seeing her work in Arts Monongahela and the entrance to the Creative Arts Center, Alison Helm. Her recent glasswork molds colored glass and steel to present abstract, geometric bursting forms that too challenge the spatial experience of viewing art.

Helm introduced me to the work of Dutch Hammer, the duo near Charleston who collaborates to create wall and installation work of glass, wood and steel. Their contemporary works offer narratives as each seems to tell a story in their recognizable forms. Too, Chris Dutch offers his intimate, solo-made colorful mosaics, recalling the historical beginnings of glass artistry.

With research through the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts Creative Network of Artists, I found the lovely abstracted landscape and floral glasswork of Leona Mackey and the exciting fused glass sculpture, kaleidoscopes and glass jewelry of Stephanie Danz.

A trip to Pittsburgh introduced me to the astounding and thought provoking environmental glass work of Barrie Kaufman. My work on the Watts’ exhibit led me to find Ron Hinkle, a longtime West Virginia glassmaker and administrator with Blenko Glass. I do not recall how I found the personal and sensuous figurative and nature-inspired glass sculpture of Elizabeth Braun, but I am thrilled I did.

As is told, each artist, all of which live right here in West Virginia, presents glass in their own way, together of which can be experienced and appreciated in the show that came to fruition and is up now at the Nutting Gallery inside the West Virginia University Alumni Center, thanks to the assistance of Watts Museum curators and Alumni Center facilitators.

I hope you come join in the fun during the open house Friday, December 2, 2016, from 4-6pm, before you attend the First Friday receptions downtown at the Monongalia Arts Center and the Diamond Shop Gallery on High Street. I will be there happy to discuss the art and get to know other art enthusiasts and curious individuals!

Contemporary Terrain: Glass Artists from the Mountain State, is open and runs through January 28, 2017 at the Nutting Gallery inside the West Virginia University Alumni Center at One Alumni Drive in Morgantown. The open house is Friday, December 2, from 4-6pm in the gallery, and artist reception will be Thursday, January 12, from 4-6pm. For inquiries email

Sally Deskins is an artist, writer and curator based in Morgantown. Email her story ideas at

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