HUNTERS ON PARADE!
(Michael and Sue Hunter on their U.S. Tour)
Michael and Sue Hunter began a whirlwind tour in the U.S. recently, flying in from Scotland to Chicago on April 21. Our good friend and paperweight grande dame Nancy Alfano saw them safely to her home before bringing them down to the Selman Gallery on Michigan Avenue the next day for an afternoon lecture and conversation filled with Michael’s trademark bone-dry humor! Michael shared stories of his decades-long love affair with glass, including an explanation of his often self-taught working methods that have served him so well in a career that has had him looking for extra storage for his awards and citations! The Hunters also brought along recent works still warm from the oven that sold briskly, as his collectors know that his output is always “1 of 1” with obvious variations between each final weight. Before our gallery get-together the Hunters met members of the Midwest PCA at a breakfast at the Congress Plaza hotel a block away; the members also joined us for the lecture. Too bad we couldn’t have Michael perform an actual demonstration but we heard that there were some who might oppose having thousands of degrees of glass melting flame present in the 135 year-old landmark Fine Arts Building. (Party-poopers.) Michael inserted hilarious asides delivered deadpan and totally entertained the group while Sue kept him on conversational track, adding a correction or the additional tidbit here and there.
Drinks afterward with Nancy and the Hunters at the Aon Building was a welcome finish to the day and provided our Scottish guests with breathtaking views from the 80th floor of the downtown landscape.
We next encountered the Hunters in Norfolk, Virginia at the big PCA convention of April 27-30. It was my first convention and I was assisting Ben Clark at The Selman booth where we had an entire glass cabinet filled with recent Hunter creations including some dazzlingly elegant candlesticks and cheerful apples and pears created with a patchwork quilt effect that reflected Mike’s interest in the original homespun bedding traditions. The candlesticks and patchwork fruit sold out and orders had to be taken. It’s a real bonus to have Sue behind the counter, able to explain every last detail of the processes and intentions. Mike would occasionally chime in, but he also enjoyed wandering the show floor with its thousands of glass distractions. There was a bonus in Norfolk unavailable at the Chicago meeting; here collectors were able to witness Mike and Sue (his irreplaceable studio mate and yes, some of those innovative designs evolved from her initial inspiration!) give demonstrations at the newly outfitted Glass Studio of the Chrysler Museum of Art. They collaborated with both Colin Richardson and Chris Sherwin to produce separate works that then sold at the ensuing PCA auction for the organization’s benefit. Rounding out the assembled all stars giving demonstrations were Dave Graeber, Damon MacNaught, Andy Najarian, Mayauel Ward, Clinton Smith and Gordon Smith – with Cathy Richardson as ringmaster deftly explaining to the crowd what was happening. It was very interesting watching them all, not only for the creation of the weights themselves, but witnessing the absolutely focused intensity, the zones they seemed to reach while also quickly adapting to the working styles and physical movements of one another. In a nearby room, Andy Najarian was performing magic, cutting, grinding and polishing glass by hand and eye! He was estimating multiple geometric spaces visually. Really I would not have believed it had I not seen it.
Let’s back up just a bit. It all began Thursday morning after registration and a generous buffet breakfast. Phil Edelman presiding as emcee outdid Bob Hope on his best day with sharp wit and sly delivery, setting a warm tone for all that followed.
And what followed involved 9 sessions of highly researched and heartfelt presentations. There were also the aforementioned totally engaging live demonstrations of glassmaking by teams of contemporary artists (many working together for the first time) at the nearby Glass Studio of the Chrysler Museum, as well as a tour of the museum itself.
On the sales floor the dealers followed the artists in a week of presenting one dazzling array after another of the finest examples in the field of paperweights outside of museum collections. I arrived a bit late and didn’t have adequate time to truly appreciate all the dealer offerings, but Ken Rosenfeld, Eric Hansen, Gordon Smith, Dave Graeber, Drew Ebelhare and Sue Fox, Victor Trabucco, and the others all had me wishing I had deeper pockets. Maybe next year… One note; a few dealers mentioned that it might be worth trying to have the artists’ setups in the same big room as the dealers. (I was disappointed in not really being able to get around to examine each dealer’s wares in depth, but I did have the pleasure of meeting several of them. Mayauel Ward had stunning and sumptuous glass works of all description – not only a feat of creation, but of transport from the west coast. Paul and Karen Dunlop’s booth was a college seminar of Pantin history; yes they had other beautiful weights as well.
An additional bonus to the sales floor was to be found in our Selman booth by the presence of John Hawley, who signed copies of his revised and updated classic, The Boston & Sandwich Glass Company. Please contact us at Selman for your copy.
Without space and memory to cover each presentation adequately, I apologize right now for mentioning some lectures at greater length than others. All mistakes and omissions are mine alone. Let me also interject here that it was great to be able to put faces to what had been just names on the web and voices on the phone.
In Session 1, Alan Thornton, the English dealer and collector gave an impressive defense of his estimates of the numbers of various groups of paperweights extant worldwide by the use of mathematical extrapolation using what he could from reliable existing records. I was delighted to realize from one of the slides Alan presented, that it became clear that in one of his masterworks in oil—the great French Impressionist painter Seurat actually was primarily interested in rendering the all important Clichy glass factory at La Garenne—with the bathers in the foreground flanking it as a casual afterthought…or maybe that’s just my willful interpretation!
In Session 2, Paul Dunlop delivered an illuminating lecture on the world of Pantin and provided the best possible visuals. Not only did he present excellent slides; his booth was filled with a collection of Pantin weights as fine as anything one could hope to see anywhere in one setting. Paul also proved to be an invaluable under-bidder at the PCA auction later on! In addition, Paul kindly brought me a poster from a one-man show exhibition of his photo-realist paintings at the Phoenix Art Museum. He and I have a shared background in representational painting, except that he was actually successful!
Next, Cathy Richardson in Session 3 shared her journey in the arts, away from the world of academic science and toward what has become the great passion in her life.
The world of the hard sciences has had its share of politics and gender issues, but science’s loss came to be the art world’s gain. Cathy’s dedication and success has proven quite influential, given that her son Colin is also a highly regarded glass artist himself.
In Session 4, Allan Port and Angela Bowey explained the interesting crosscurrents between glassmakers in a speech “Vasart, Pirelli & Lassman.” I would give a lot to know what the two of them know, not only about paperweights and their history, but also about art and antiques in general. Also, Allan is an absolute doppleganger for a dear old friend of mine and I’m looking for the photograph to send him.
Session 5: “Emerging From the Shadow”– was about an artist’s influences. Drew Ebelhare, Dave Graeber, Eric Hansen and Daniel Salazar gave the audience the gifts of their memories and feelings about developing as people as well as artists. Drew was as usual, a bit non-conformist to the delight of many with the only wordless (Andy Kaufman inspired?) presentation with entertaining images and very unusual music. Drew is also always the best-dressed glassmaker in the house. And try as I might to compliment him and Sue Fox, they will not tell me just how they attain that gorgeous and edible-looking Dreamsicle color in some of their creations. Danny Salazar’s good-natured reminiscences (he should always be in a good mood, having grown up in southern California!) Among his memories and experience of course is his tenure at Lundberg Studios and all welcomed his remarks. Danny should write a book about it. He was also cheerfully invaluable in the Selman booth, being the best possible salesman for the beautiful weights he had created and brought to the booth. (Thank you Danny!) Eric Hansen shared tales of life in a multi-generational glass family with a touching note about the undoing of the sales market for his family’s glass animals by hordes of cheaply made and low-priced imports. Things got better later, he said. (That’s partly why we need arts education in this country – the development of taste!) I also remember seeing one of the most beautiful weights of the fair at his table. It’s almost hard to like a guy who has that much talent in different areas. If you don’t know, Eric’s resume includes having been a Navy pilot and (currently) an airline pilot!
Dave Graeber opened his heart in an instance of sharing, above and beyond what a presentation might call for. He spoke of his development under two mentors—Paul Stankard and George Vail. Dave’s relationship with Stankard is well known. But you could only hope to have a student or acolyte feel about you the bone-deep love, respect and gratitude Dave Graeber has for Mr. Vail, who helped prepare him at an earlier time in his life for the challenges ahead of him.
Friday Session 6 saw Virginia Laidet of the Chrysler Museum provide a general introductory welcome to the attendees.
In a most intimate presentation (Session 7-“The Next Evolution”) Melissa Ayotte, shared her philosophy of life and her love of nature as they imbue her passionate struggle to create an art form that incorporates the essence of classic paperweight-making while focusing also on other elements close to her soul; chief among them being symbols of personal growth, reflection and spirituality. Please try to access her talk. A side note; I was impressed by how she tries to maintain a fundamental validity to her pieces. One example: she carefully researched just what seeds and bits of plants would be found in an early Indian bowl made by a particular tribe where she had recreated the bowl as a magnum paperweight. Melissa faithfully placed these inside. And she balances it all with motherhood. (I need to up my game!)
Session 8 – In “Antique Sulphide Paperweights,” Dr. Barton, attending the fair with his wife Nancy, offered a scholarly and illuminating presentation on the subject. I tried to take notes in the dark but had to give up from falling behind and just decided to enjoy the moment and take solace for whatever I did retain. I’m grateful for the reminder from him to never even touch with an ungloved hand the gold finish on a royal portrait sulphide. He also in an email explained to me the likely reason why there are many sulphides featuring Robert E. Lee and none of General Grant. Much of the French sympathy lay with the South during our Civil War, which dovetailed nicely with their ambitions in Mexico during that time. Also Lee was a more refined and appealing subject. I’m thinking the romance and tragedy of his lost cause also appealed to the French who have had artists on their currency and philosophers listed as such in their phone directories!
The Norfolk PCA convention ended with quite a surprise…
On day 3 of the PCA conference in Norfolk, Wes Clark took the stage for Session 9 – his talk was “In Pursuit of the Russian Imperial Ring, a 30 Year Odyssey.” An engaging and seasoned speaker, he slowly released his line and led the audience as nimbly as a veteran fisherman; everyone was hooked! Initially building a parallel momentum of suspense based on his own international treasure hunts for rarities in the paperweight world (with Mr. Magoo as his PowerPoint avatar!) Wes segued to Larry Selman’s own greatest clandestine adventure—securing the majestic “Russian Ring” in the ominous backstreets of Eastern Europe. The “crowning” achievement of Wes’ speech was the totally unexpected announcement that the Ring was actually about to enter the room! Unseen for years, the Selman gallery had once again taken possession of the fabled artwork, even if only for a brief period and by the good graces of a very reclusive collector. The crowd was stunned and delightfully surprised, responding with huge applause. I polled almost a dozen people afterward, could find no one who had begun to guess the climax of the presentation, so quietly and smoothly had Wes ramped up the sense of anticipation in his tone. (Later I discovered that a few people had noticed the absence of Ben in the room when Wes called him, and began to have their suspicions.) Despite that, Wes had, according to many there, provided the surprise highlight of the 3 days of presentations. That afternoon, from open to close, the Selman booth was swamped with admiring collectors just staring and with several artists, led by Damon MacNaught and Gordon Smith putting their heads together in a vigorous conversation of how possibly to reverse-engineer this masterpiece!
(They came to no consensus.) We thank the civically minded if very private patron of the arts who allowed us to share the unparalleled achievement that the Ring represents in the history of glasswork! You should have been there!
“A big thank you to Katie Malone-Smith for the following photographs…just don’t blame her for the captions!”
Following the final formal presentation Jim Lefever, Alan Thornton and Andrew Dohan generously hosted an Identification Clinic. It was also the third day of the dealers’ fair, where people had a last opportunity to purchase additions to their collections as well as view the stunning and reclusive Imperial Russian Ring.
Interspersed with all this were daily announcements and board meetings hosted by selfless members who gave their time and energy to the cause. I also met Michael Calleri, who helms the Glass Paperweight Group and who documented the PCA Convention so that all the collectors could see everything on the Internet. We also connected over the abysmal quality of so much film reviewing today.
He’s already saved me from wasting money at the movie ticket office with his thoughtful but no-nonsense reviews. Thank you Michael!
The Norfolk event ended on a high note Saturday evening with a cocktail hour followed by a satisfying banquet. As people were finishing their meals the auction of the collaborative works done at the museum glass studio were auctioned off with some real but good-natured competitive spirits on display. Talk began informally of where the next event would occur, with Louisville mentioned by more than one attendee. Chris Sherwin went above and beyond in providing this year’s lovely takeaway weight for everyone at the finale.
At this, my first PCA fair I must say I was genuinely impressed by not only the beauty of the assembled offerings of gorgeous glass art and the passion of the lectures and presentations, but also the sense of fraternity among the men and women who fill the ranks of collectors and dealers. I felt a definite affectionate kinship among you all who were present there and who are reading this. From the Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers and even on to those gifted and prescient Millennials who are picking up the torch—I saw nothing but respect and sharing.
It was a pleasure to be there.
Co-incidence? – I don’t think so! In a surprise move the NATO Alliance saw fit celebrate our PCA members event with a grand parade throughout the downtown area of Norfolk. Google it if you don’t believe me. Thank you, half of Europe!!!
Impressed by the international salute, the Hunters departed on Sunday with Diane Warning, who graciously hosted them before bringing them to their next stop – the NEPCA convention. There, in a hotel in the town of Marlborough outside of Boston, Michael again spoke to an appreciative audience. Now, Michael claims to be color-blind but when asked how he could achieve the subtle and absolutely harmonious palettes that give many of his works their singular aura, he straightaway says “I read German” meaning he does it by German color charts and number tables. I’m scratching my head over that one, but it certainly seems to work well. The NEPCA fair attendees were also grateful for an interesting overview; “The Contemporary Paperweight Collection of Richard Schimmelpfeng” was delivered by Kirk Nelson, director of the New Bedford Museum of Glass of Massachusetts. Allan Port was the lead speaker, generous with his time as well as donations to the table that held some very nice “door prizes.” Thank you again, Allan for the glass weight of the Earth I took home.
The list of people to acknowledge for their time, energy and devotion to the organizations that bring lovers of paperweights together is indeed a long one and I apologize to any speakers, artists and collectors whom I have failed to identify individually or correctly. It truly was a gathering of dedicated collectors, artists and dealers. Thanks to Phil Edelman, Diane Warning, Martha Foley, Ellen Rostker, Don Formigli, Deb Zonies, Clara Ayotte, Allan Port and all the glass lovers who gave and continue to give of their time and energy to keep the flame alive beyond the glass studio.
A last thank you to Bob Hartman, a Florida dealer and one of the heroes of the PCA auction. I tried to stand near him and pick up some of that happy-go-lucky charm of his. Thank you Bob for reminding me to smile more –
I hope next time I won’t be operating with a severely pinched nerve in my shoulder! Until next time!