UrbanGlass is thrilled to present Katherine Gray’s A Tree Grows, the inaugural exhibition in the Agnes Varis Art Center at 647 Fulton Street. Comprised of thousands of drinking glasses in green, clear and brown glass, A Tree Grows approximates the shapes of popular trees found in Brooklyn: the Norwegian Maple and the London Plane, as well as a Mulberry, a nod to the previous location of the New York Experimental Glass Workshop, the organization that became UrbanGlass.
Informed by Gray’s 2010 work Forest Glass, A Tree Grows is a statement about the life cycle of glass, and a metaphor for the community that has nurtured and supported UrbanGlass. Gray solicited members of the UrbanGlass community near and far to contribute recycled and handmade glasses from their kitchens and studios. Interested in the impact of manufacturing on ecology, Gray was inspired by the process of creating glass, which was accomplished historically by cutting and burning forests to generate the necessary heat; she employs the products of this process— glasses—and makes them back into the “trees” from which they came.
These ‘trees’, an artwork made from donated drinking glasses, came out of a desire to invite UrbanGlass’ extended community to participate in its making. A call went out requesting drinking glasses, preferably brown, green or clear and before coming to Brooklyn to stage this piece, I was not sure what to expect. I had never collaborated so blindly before and giving up so much aesthetic control can go against the grain for someone working in the visual arts!
We received hundreds of glasses from local stakeholders of all stripes: artists, collectors, UrbanGlass board members and representatives from other local arts organizations. Glasses arrived from all across the country, and from as far away as England and Australia. Countless unnamed students from sister institutions such as the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the Corning Museum of Glass Hot Glass Show, Pilchuck Glass School and Ball State University all sent glasses. Of particular note are two finely engraved clear glasses brought to America from Wales in 1895. Lastly, some glasses were culled from local and far-flung thrift stores, which also has the benefit of contributing to other non-profit enterprises.
Many people included short notes, either addressed to me personally or to give a bit of a backstory about their contribution/ donation. I can’t help but think that people responded in such numbers because of the strength of their belief in UrbanGlass and its enduring mission. This was some way that many could be here to celebrate its amazing rebirth as a state-of-the-art facility. In the end, I was deeply touched and humbled by the efforts people went to, and to be a part of this inspiring occasion.
Katherine Gray’s projects and installations have been featured in galleries around the United States and been covered in publications including Artforum and the Los Angeles Times. A faculty member at California State University, San Bernardino, Gray has lectured and taught widely; her show at UrbanGlass will be the first significant presentation of her work in New York City.
A Tree Grows is supported, in part, by the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass and the Robert Lehman Foundation. Special thanks to Materials for the Arts.