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Athanor and Other Wonders…

Where better for an alchemical exercise than a building with invisible walls on a day fogged in by history, in a town floating between majestic past and gritty present?

The Glass Pavilion, Toledo Museum of Art, east entrance.

Dan and I are in Toledo, Ohio to scout pop-up gallery and workshop locations in advance of the June 2012 GAS conference. As magic happens, our visit collides with a project at the Toledo Museum of Art’s stunningly hallucinogenic Glass Pavilion.

Inside, the ghost of Le Corbusier?

The order of the day, March 23, 2012, is to replicate – as best as sketchy surviving notes suggest – the furnace built in March 1962 for Harvey Littleton’s first Toledo workshop – the event that is generally acknowledged to have ignited the American Studio Glass Movement.

Kim, Amber and Matt, burying the old inside the new...

What the project honors is certainly more than a moment in time. It honors the energy of exploration, of going against the grain (or the family, or the industry), to rip something new and personal out of the status quo.

That Toledo and the Minkoff Foundation have chosen to sponsor a residency of young artists – were it not for the body-ornamented hunky Matt, a certain vestal-virgins-in-the-mists might suggest itself  – charging them with building, then charging, this iconic little oven. We are grateful to watch.

By the morning of the 24th, the furnace is ready to light.

And to be watched. Because it’s not 1962. It’s 2012 – and the energy of this moment is all about watching. It’s impossible to miss the arsenal of smart phones and laptops and digital cameras. Monitors abound. Everything being taped. Dan is tugged off to be interviewed about being a student of Littleton’s.

Zoom. Or just go to

Websites are accessed in search of technical data. FedEx is enlisted to speed a Johns-Manville 475 marble off to Bullseye’s research team for a dilatometric test. That it will take 12 hours to move this little marble across the continent seems an unspeakable shortcoming of 21st century technology. Where is astral-projection when we need it?

"Say something for the viewers in 2062..."

The event, of course, begs the question: is it magic if it’s reproducible?  There are other questions: what really is the role of history in this kind of exercise? Are we robbing the future of a past if we hold it this close? What happens to imagination when we document so much?

Monitoring the monitors.

1962 is a few grainy photos and a stack of mud-stained bricks. Oddly, they seem so much more magical to me than my own iPhone which at the same time is miraculously sucking up hundreds of megabytes of moments that I’ll look at days, months and maybe years from now and think that I was here.

Well, my smart phone was. Was I? Really?

Foreground, the Glass Pavilion. Background TMA's main building.

It’s all too much. I think I’m suffering from a debilitating strain of arch-e-tectural intoxication.  So we wander across Monroe Street, back to the older part of the museum where I collide with Anselm Kiefer’s remarkable “Athanor” .

….and start musing all over again on self-fueling furnaces, alchemy and …and…and…where I misplaced Dan…..

…who is eventually found….back-dropped by history, talking to a factory on the other side of a continent….he has furnaces of our own to tend. Which reminds us to Just Go Home.

But, Toledo, we loved you – and we’ll see you again in June (if the fog has cleared by then).

One Response to Athanor and Other Wonders…

  1. Marshall says:

    What a beautiful report, Lani, a short story, really…a lovely tale at the end of my day. History is a curious living thing. We look back at it, try to imagine the future, and often seem to miss it in the present moment. I don’t think you miss anything…

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