Local Glass Art Reflects Life at Phipps Summer Flower Show

  • Long-stemmed glass Queen Anne's Lace blooms captured the sun among the live ferns. Photo: J.S.Jordan

  • Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack together created passion flowers in glass vining around a handmade arch. Photo: J.S.Jordan

  • Gary Guydosh, of Gallery G Glass Studio, created water lilies, birds, koi fish and other glass art works. Photo: J.S.Jordan

May 3, 2013

World-famous glass art from Dale Chihuly and Hans Godo Frabel has graced Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens' plant and flower collections over the years. But for its newly opened summer show, the conservatory invited perhaps lesser-known regional artists to showcase their work.

When visitors walk through Phipps' entrance, they’re greeted by Matthew McCormack and Jenn Figg’s collaborative work—a passion flower plant made of 220 pieces of handblown glass vining around two tall orange metal arches.

“It’s almost an intercepting arch; it’s asymmetrical,” Figg said. “We were thinking that would be really interesting for the eye. All of the steel of the vine is all hand-worked, hammered, and formed.”

There are also pieces that look like light bulbs, representing the passion fruits themselves, which appear various colors of ripeness. 

“So the ones that are ripe are the ones that are orange,” Figg said. “We were trying to have different parts of the plant in both birth and through death and so the fruits are part of that.”

It’s the third botanical-inspired piece the team from Baltimore has produced together.

They chose to represent the passion flower for multiple reasons. First, because it has what McCormack described as “a mythology with Christianity with the form of the plant.”

“The corona of the flower is liken to the corona around Christ’s head,” Figg said. 

McCormack added that the stamens in the center of the blooms make up cross-shaped forms. The pair were also interested in other elements of the plant—its medicinal use to reduce inflammation and that it can be an invasive species.

Another artist with work in the show is Diane Taninecz from Peninsula, Ohio. She created lifelike Queen Anne’s Lace wildflowers using a glass-making process called pâte de verre (paste of glass). Then she placed 103 of the glass flowers among the living purple, white, pink, and yellow blooms. On the busy opening night, Taninecz got to see visitors initial reactions to her work.

“It’s kind of a kick for me to have people come in here and look at these flowers and say, ‘Oh that’s Queen Anne’s Lace and Oh I thought that was a real flower,” Taninecz said. “And I wasn’t originally intending to reproduce that specifically, but to create the essence of the delicacy of the Queen Anne’s Lace. That was my goal, to have this quiet beauty of the Queen Anne’s Lace Flower. So to think about the idea of actually achieving that it is really special to me.”

A third artist in the show is Gary Guydosh, from the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Greenfield. His work, exhibited along a large pond, is punctuated by colorful oversized water lilies, cattails, and koi fish seemingly frozen in time.

Also strutting around the perimeter of the water are what audience members dubbed “wacky birds.”

Guydosh said they were inspired as a reaction against his wife’s wish for pink plastic lawn flamingos. Instead, he produced more impressionistic, elegant birds in a variety of dark colors.

“I’ve been working in glass for 16 years,” Guydosh said. “I learned through traditional Venetian-style work. I used to do goblets and pitchers and bowls. And I didn’t like it that much, because you had to be specific and I’m not that kind of person. I wanted to do fun things. So then nature let’s me do that because nothing is the same in nature. It’s all a little different, little fun, it works for me.”

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Summer Flower Show will be on display until October 6. Other artists with work in the show include:

  • Pittsburgher Daviea Davis, who created stained-glass towers lit from within, revealing patterns set to complement orange, pink, and purple flowers.
  • Travis Rohrbaugh and Christopher Hofmann, from Pittsburgh Glass Center, debuted a partial articulated glass woolly mammoth skeleton encircled by lush, prehistoric-looking plants.
  • Nikolaj Christensen, a Philadelphia artist, made vases in the Sunken Garden and black obsidian rock outcroppings in the Fern Room.
  • Jason Forck, a Pittsburgh Glass Center instructor, features large, papery Chinese lantern seed pods among coral, orange, and pink blooms.
  • Steven Sadvary, a local mosaic artist, erected a sparkling glass tower.
  • Lisa Platt, board president of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Pittsburgh, exhibited her whimsical glass and mixed media works in the Welcome Center Gallery.