Collecting Studio Art Glass

Studio glass is one of the hottest new trends for art collectors. There are so many shapes, colors, and types of studio glass art that it can be collected by anyone and for any purpose: home decoration, art appreciation, or investment. But many interested people balk when it comes to starting or expanding their collection because they don’t trust their own instincts when choosing art. All a collector needs is a basic understanding of the things to look for when buying studio glass for their collection, and then personal taste and style can take over.

The first thing to consider is the definition of ‘studio glass.’ Studio Glass is a recent movement founded in America in the late 50s and early 60s by a small group of artists. Dale Chihuly and Harvey Littleton are two of these early innovators who have risen to international fame for their work with glass. The innovation that these men helped to create was to develop methods that brought glass working out of the realm of the factory and into the private artist’s studio. Therefore, ‘studio glass’ is work that was created by an artist in their studio, not in a factory. Prominent artists, such as Chihuly, now work in very large studios that employ many assistants, but the distinction remains between a factory and an artist’s studio. Therefore, if you are confused upfront about whether a particular piece is ‘studio’ or ‘factory’ glass, all you need to do is ask the gallery curator or associate.

Questions to ask: Who is the artist who created this? Where is their studio located?

The second thing to consider is craftsmanship. A highly skilled and successful artist will not send flawed work to a gallery to sell. One thing to look for is any scratches or nicks in the finish of the glass. Not all glass is smooth and reflective- some artists may ‘rough’ up the surface of glass for effect. But it is usually easy to determine whether a scratch is intentional, or the result of careless craftsmanship or shipping problems at the gallery. If you are collecting for enjoyment only, a scratch may not bother you and may even get you a discounted price at the gallery. But if you are collecting for investment purposes, it is in your best interest to buy only pieces that are in mint condition.

Another flaw to keep an eye out for is a bubble in the glass. Tiny bubbles are an intrinsic characteristic of the glassblowing process, and cannot always be avoided. Tiny bubbles (around the size of a pinhead) that do not break the surface of the glass are usually not considered flaws. Anything larger or anything that breaks through the surface of the piece should be avoided. Again, use your best judgment if you find a bubble. Like any original work of art, glass pieces may have tiny imperfections that are the result of being handmade and unique. But if a flaw really bothers you, then you should probably not invest in the piece.

Besides small imperfections, ask the gallery associate to pick the piece up and show you all angles, including the bottom. A skilled artist will often have smoothed any rough edges and made sure that any color is smooth and unblemished. Streaks in the color (if they are not related to any pattern) can be considered imperfections as well. Be sure to check the bottom and around the piece for the artist’s signature and the year. Copycat reproductions of artists’ signature pieces and techniques are becoming more and more common. Be sure that your piece is signed.

Questions to ask: Was this piece scratched when the artist sent it, or did this happen in the gallery? Is this bubble large enough to be considered a flaw? Would you consider sending this piece back to the artist for a replacement?

Many glass artists, like many ceramics and other craft artists, create ‘lines’ of work for sale at many galleries around the world. Although each piece is handmade and therefore unique due to uncontrollable differences in color and size, it may be part of a ‘line’ of similar pieces. This work is still considered original and collectible, but some collectors may be looking for ‘one-of-a-kind’ pieces only. The best thing to do is talk to the gallery curator or associate about the work. The methods of working change from artist to artist. Some artists create more expensive, one-of-a-kind pieces and create a ‘line’ of smaller, less expensive pieces as well. If there is an artist you absolutely love, but you cannot afford an original sculpture, you may want to purchase a smaller vase or paperweight from their line. For investment purposes, consider buying one-of-a-kind work or pieces that come from strictly limited editions. Limited editions will often be numbered, either on the piece or on a card signed by the artist.

Questions to ask: Is this piece part of a line of similar pieces, or is it one-of-a-kind? Does this artist make multiple copies of her designs? Is this piece unique? Is this line a limited edition? Is the piece part of a numbered edition?

The hardest part for many collectors is determining which artists are likely to be more collectible than others. The gallery curator or associate can be highly helpful in making these decisions. Ask questions about the artist- how long they have been producing work, how widely they are shown, if their work is collected in any museums or prominent collections. Many galleries will have a resume or bio of the artist on file. Feel free to ask to see any such documents.

A safe bet is an artist with a good track record of shows and good representation in galleries in major metropolitan areas. However, you may need to consider whether an artist has too MUCH exposure. An artist who has work in hundreds of galleries, is easily bought and sold online, and is all over eBay, is probably overexposed. Look at the number of galleries on the artist’s resume and bio. An artist who knows when to limit their exposure is ensuring that their work stays collectible.

If you still aren’t sure, take down the artist’s name and go home to do some research. Try searching for the artist on the Internet, to see if they have any articles written about them or have their own website with further information. Write down some of the names and locations of galleries that the artist is collected by. Researching these galleries may give you some insight as well. Many artists would also be happy to be called by someone interested in their work. This is NOT the time, however, to call the artist and try to make a deal for a cheaper price. Reputable artists will not sell directly to the public- ‘back door’ sales such as these are looked down upon in the art world, and many galleries will not represent artists who frequently make such deals.

Questions to ask: Is this artist well-established or emerging talent? Where did the artist go to school? Is the artist collected in any museums? Is the artist included in any other famous collections? Has the artist won any awards or received any endowments?

For interested people who are thinking of starting a collection, there are other factors to consider. Will you be collecting randomly based on what catches your fancy, or will you be taking a more organized approach. You could start a collection of glass paperweights by many different artists. You could find one or two artists you truly love and collect only their works. Or you could collect by time period or region. An art collection can be a highly personal thing that creatively expresses your personality. The limits of space can be one thing to consider. A larger home can easily accommodate larger pieces such as sculpture, tall vases, or wall hangings. A smaller apartment or condo could be a good place to display a fantastic collection of perfume bottles.

The final thing to consider when purchasing a piece of glass is your own opinion. If you have found a piece of glass art that you truly love, than you need not consider anything else. Having a work of art that you truly love in your home will make you happy every time you see it, whether it matches your sofa or not.

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