“Centaur” 2011 Glass, clay, iron

Centaur by Cristina BothwellChristina Bothwell b. 1960
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Married to Robert Bender, glass artist

Christina Bothwell’s work is emblematic of a new movement in glass called “Glass Secessionism” modeled after the Photo Secessionist movement of the early 1900’s. Glass Secessionists seek to move away from the technique-driven work of the first 50 years of studio glass. They believe that great art should be driven primarily by artistic vision, and technique should facilitate the vision. The Secessionist approach is a stark contrast to the existing structure of glass creation, driven by technique taught at respected schools like Pilchuck, Urban Glass, Corning Glass. Secessionists believe that many of these schools encourage or at least condone the making of copies of the work of the icons of early studio glass. Secessionists encourage bold experimentation, challenging the material, and originality.

I think mentioning the context of Glass Secessionism can aid in the viewer’s appreciation for the work. The physical positioning of the piece in the gallery lends itself to a “compare and contrast” exercise, by pointing out the traditional blown-glass work nearby, and then mentioning the concepts behind Glass Secessionism.

Centaur combines dense clay and rusty iron as points of contrast to the transparent glass. That contrast, in materials, in textures, and color are vitally important to this work. The contrasts go beyond the materials, and the imagery challenges the viewer to think beyond “what it is” and consider “what it does” to our emotions and perspectives.

Viewer response to “Centaur” may be very strong. The figure is doll-like, yet sarcophagal. Is it a toy? Is it a totem? Viewers often lean in to look closer; to determine if it is one figure with two heads, or a girl riding a deer. The deer antlers may remind some of the Kubuta, the helmets of samuri warriors. “Centaur” may remind the viewer of a liminal being, something that cannot be easily placed into a single category of existence. Legendary creatures, combining two distinct states of simultaneous existence within one physical body. In legend, these characters often have great wisdom, and the power to instruct, often in cryptic ways. Think of the Sphinx, or in our popular culture, Yoda of “Star Wars” fame. You may want to ask the viewer if they can think of other liminal beings.

Point out the figure within the figure, and ask your guests if they noticed the figure inside the figure. This will draw them closer to the piece, and provide a terrific opening for a dialog about the work. The artist states: “In my work I am drawn to the processes of birth, death, and renewal. What lies below the surface fascinates me and I try to capture the qualities of the "unseen" that express the sense of wonder that I feel in my daily existence. I am attracted to glass because it can do everything that other sculptural media can; in addition, it offers an inner space and transmits light.

My subject matter includes babies, animals, and children as they embody the essence of vulnerability that is the underlying theme in my work. Currently I am exploring metamorphosis as a topic, and have been incorporating figures within figures in my pieces. Within each glass figure there is a smaller figure seen through the surface of the glass.

I think of these pieces as souls, each being pregnant with their own potential, giving birth to new, improved versions of themselves.”

The dramatic contrasts of the extraordinary piece and the comments of the artist provide fertile ground for a remarkable visitor experience!


Christina Bothwell