Through its acquisitions, exhibitions and serving as the repository for the American Cut Glass Association’s Permanent Collection, some may have picked up on the subtlety of Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s interest in glass art. But, for CEO and President Charles Shepard the museum’s relationship with glass art is anything but subtle.
When Shepard came to the museum almost 17 years ago, he was not only tasked with overseeing the museum’s existing collection of American and related art, but also with setting the course for the museum’s future and the direction it was going to take with its permanent collection.
He has identified glass art as an artistic medium that offers tremendous opportunity for the museum.
“Glass art is typically dismissed by other museums because it is considered craft,” said Shepard. “There are lots of glass artists who have pieces of their work as part of museum collections, but it hasn’t necessarily been embraced at the highest institutional level. It is also a relatively new medium; American glass art was started in the 1950s.”
It is possible to see Shepard’s vision for the museum’s future, by looking at the museum through the lens of glass art. Within its permanent collection, the museum has several contemporary glass pieces from well-known glass sculptors including Tim Tate, Peter Bremers, Sally Rogers, Alex Bernstein and Dale Chihuly.
“There is no doubt that the Fort Wayne community loves the style of contemporary glass art sculptures,” said Shepard. “Glass art is very accessible because it is a known material and is environmentally friendly.”
In 2018, the museum installed its largest indoor sculptural, glass artist Martin Blank’s Repose in Amber which is one of the largest hot-sculpted landscapes in the world. While this loaned piece of Blank’s work has been on view, the museum received a gift of another of Blank’s pieces Dream Sequence. This donation led to collector who originally loaned the museum Blank’s Repose in Amber to gift it to the museum. The $1.4 million piece, one of the largest hot-sculpted landscapes of glass, is now part of museum’s permanent collection.
“We have to always maintain a balance in our permanent collection, but you also don’t want to be a museum without an identity,” said Shepard. “And sometimes big and unusual collections can give you an identity. There is tremendous benefit to be known for having something.”
Shepard is continuing to immerse himself in the glass art world, setting his sights on contemporary glass art and sculptures from 1975 to today. He continues to make inroads with the mediums passionate artists and collectors, both of whom may at some point be looking to work with a public institution to house their body of work and/or create a space to showcase their significant and impressive collections. “There are so many possibilities for the museum in the realm of contemporary glass art,” said Shepard.