Volume 34, Number 5, May 1999


Beyond the Imagination

by Geoffrey Wryter

Like many artists and entrepreneurs, David Ruth was drawn to decorative glass during its explosive growth in the 1970s. Wanting to ornament and not just illuminate buildings, he turned first to the ancient craft of stained glass. Circumstances have a way of shaping intentions, and Ruth’s choice of a teacher profoundly redirected his interests. Roger Darricarrere was a French artist whose preferred medium, dalle-de-verre or ‘slab’ glass, came to life brilliantly in the strong California sunlight. Instead of thin sheets of glass held together by metal channels, slab glass is at least 1-inch thick. Rather than utilizing painted details, it achieves its expressive quality through faceting with a hammer before being set in a freely shaped concrete or epoxy matrix. Darricarrere made his own glass, and as he learned from his mentor how to cast his own thick glass, Ruth discovered a terrain within its inner spaces that few ever saw. Making glass in a way that brings its interior to life became important to his life’s work. Of necessity, Ruth found himself enmeshed in twin pursuits. He studied sculpture to understand how things and their forms interact, while simultaneously exploring the chemistry and refractory engineering needed to melt and shape glass. He could advance in neither art without comparable progress in the other. From this dilemma came Ruthglass, a factory that from the late ’70s to the early ’80s produced and distributed some of the most admired sheets of art glass ever made. Ruthglass possessed as much as thin glass could of the kind of inherent interest he sought, and eventually allowed Ruth to move on to casting truly large pieces of glass. Some idea of the kind of effects Ruth elaborates on may be seen in the popular genre of collectable paperweights. Beyond mere novelty, however, Ruth envisioned the possibility of a new dimension in sculpture—one that combined interior arrangement with overall shape to produce a compound effect. His early results were controversial, partly due to the weight of his creations which reached up to one thousand pounds, thus straining the physical resources of the gallery system. Nevertheless, he continues to challenge the limits of how large a piece of glass an artist can employ, not only working in a variety of scales, but experimenting with durable kinds of glass that may eventually be able to go anywhere stone or metal can stand.

Jerry and Judy Rose, prominent Bay Area glass art collectors, have supported the development of a colored, Pyrex-like glass that can withstand outdoor exposure, which only thin glass had been capable of before. As often happens when art and science collaborate, the things Ruth has learned lend themselves to collateral applications. Believing that if more people could see what he was doing it would enhance their lives and his opportunities, he recently began accepting commercial commissions. For the new Benaroya Symphony Hall in Seattle, he created light fixture covers that required combining his experience at Ruthglass with new high-tech tools. To make them he hand cast and rolled sheets of glass, pattern-cut them using a high-pressure water jet, then bent them to shape in a kiln. For the same building he created four striking, large vases that flank the auditorium doors. Although at first glance they appear to be carved of more traditional stone, on closer inspection they reveal a subtle transparency of their rock-like surfaces, beneath which lurk colors and shapes suggestive of geologic process and great age. A series of large deep panels draw the eye into the interior realm upon which Ruth wants to focus. As versatile as they are beautiful, they function variously as windows, room div-iders, paintings, light sources, tables and countertops. They bring to these disparate roles the magic of swirling color and frozen motion suspended within an intangible space provocative and seductive to eye and mind. These differing applications will all be on view at Eliza’s, Ping and Jen Sung’s third San Francisco restaurant. While vertical panels celebrate the style of Matisse, the Chef’s favorite painter, a horizontal trio turn a functional countertop into a series of limpid pools, in which colorful fish chase bubbles among coiling underwater plants. These panels are transformed by artificial lighting from above or below, natural light, or simply by movement of the viewer as their elements shift, separate and re-combine. At the same time, their ability to project colors and even images throughout their environment allows the transformation to be mutual. While these ‘slabs’ of glass literally return Ruth to the material format he began with, they mark a breakthrough for glass in construction. While known for any number of desirable qualities, glass here asserts a special kind of magic unmatched by other building materials. In the hands of architects, designers, patrons, and homeowners, working in collaboration with an innovator and artist like David Ruth, what will happen next can only be imagined.

Geoffrey Wryter is a sometime stained glass artist who has been writing about glass art for over 20 years.


Super Spacer Offers Options for Art Glass

Edgetech of Cambridge, OH, asserts that its Super Spacer is ideal for art glass applications. The product is a pre-formed modular component system consisting of a structural grid of anodized tubular aluminum that holds individual pieces of beveled art glass.

The lattice structure is positioned on top of a Super Spacer-clad glass lite during final IG assembly. According to the company, with its top lite in place, the completed IG unit’s interior grid is enhanced by the beveled inserts and the absence of clear glass between them. The end result is a transparent effect.

Edgetech says the assembly is 30 to 50 percent less expensive than conventional leaded-came works, cuts fabrication time from weeks to days and greatly reduces the weight of the suspended piece of art glass. Jeff Menhart, president of Columbus’ Designer Glass International (DGI), praised the durability of the seal and softness of the spacer. "The cushion effect is particularly relevant. It allows for the necessary expansion and contraction of materials," he said. DGI has used the product to launch a new style of lightweight, camed-look art glass.


Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.