[PA-NJ Glassblowers] Shaping a life in glass: Audrey Handler

Tony Patti gaffer at glassblower.info
Tue Jul 1 22:18:48 EDT 2014

I received this Google Alert today:



Early last year I wrote a blog as a homage to Audrey Handler at 


so the article below really resonates with me.



Shaping a life in glass


June 30, 2014 11:15 am By
<http://host.madison.com/users/profile/Gayle%20Worland> Gayle Worland |
Wisconsin State Journal

Audrey Handler was already a painter with a fine-arts degree and three young
children when she peered into a Quonset hut near Camp Randall that housed
the UW-Madison Glass Lab. Inside were the lab's furnaces, hot with fire.

Five decades later, the esteemed glass artist was receiving the Wisconsin
Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor formerly bestowed on the
likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O'Keeffe and many living artists with
strong ties to the state. The framed WVALAA award propped up in Handler's
studio names her as a "Wisconsin cultural treasure."

"You could say she's the grande dame of Wisconsin glass," said Graeme Reid,
director of collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in
West Bend, which collaborates with Wisconsin Visual Artists and the
Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters on the awards.

"When you think about it, there is no female glass artist in the state of
Wisconsin who has been working here longer than Audrey."

Handler got her start in the earliest days of the Studio Glass Movement - a
chapter in contemporary art that essentially began in Madison in the 1960s
through the vision of the late glass pioneer and UW-Madison art professor
Harvey Littleton. Handler was one of his first female students, and became
close friends and collaborators with fellow students Dale Chihuly and Fritz
Dreisbach, two international names in glass art today.

Handler herself has artworks in museum collections in London, Germany,
Austria, Denmark, New York and throughout Wisconsin.

"Audrey was one of those early pioneers in glass," said Wisconsin Visual
Artists president Christine Style, who first met Handler when she too was
studying with Littleton.

"It's hard for artists to maintain their art over a long period of time
because life can get in the way, or it's hard to make it, or people give
up," Style said. "So to have the persistence to continue, along with the
strength of the work, is one of the reasons" Handler was selected for the
achievement award.

Handler's perseverance is linked to her intense sense of curiosity. The
artist once learned to fly a plane only to see what it's like and to log a
few solo flights. She enrolled in Littleton's program because, after
happening upon the UW-Madison Glass Lab, she knew "I just had to do this,"
she said.

Today her studio, located on a winding road in rural Verona, is its own
self-contained glass lab, with furnaces that Handler helped install and that
can reach upwards of 2,075 degrees Fahrenheit. It's here that she crafts her
brilliantly colored platters, finely shaped glass fruits and her vases, made
with layer upon layer of colored glass to create patterns that evoke the
landscape outside her door.

The process requires artistry, chemistry, engineering and dexterity. The
glass artist gathers the molten glass from the oven with a blowpipe, then
use tools to rapidly create and refine a shape. Each piece involves
reheating and cooling with utmost care so it doesn't crack.

The art of glass-blowing had long been kept "secret" by glass factories, so
the UW-Madison artists who began exploring the medium half a century ago had
to figure out the process themselves. Students would watch old movies rented
from the Corning Museum of Glass, Handler said. And they shared whatever
they learned.

"We knew that we would eventually get better, but we never dreamed that one
day we would be called the pioneers of the studio glass movement," she said.

"When we first started working with glass, we had only rudimentary tools. We
had blowpipes that we ordered from Germany, and a few other things," she
said. Students had to fabricate their other tools.

"We were all learning together at that time. My main focus was learning to
control the material, just making simple shapes."

Over time Handler began making landscape forms, but wasn't satisfied, she

"I really wanted to tell a story."

So she began making miniatures in glass - a perfume bottle, a goblet, a
pepper or pear - and placing them in scenes at once charming and surreal.
Often they are paired with exquisite, tiny figures in gold or silver.

Her 1979 piece titled "Wedding Breakfast" shows an elaborate breakfast on a
table for one person. At the time she created it, she was going through a
divorce, Handler said; the artwork today belongs to the Corning Museum.

Another work from the 1980s, "Vanity," consists of an actual miniature
woman's vanity, complete with a reflective mirror showing the artist's face.
Anyone who peers into it will see their own face, too. The piece now belongs
to a private collector.

Today Handler's best-known works might be those paired with fine pieces in
wood created by John Martner, her husband of 14 years.

Martner, who holds a PhD in biochemistry and genetics, meticulously crafts
his artworks in a wood shop just upstairs from Handler's glass studio,
located in what was once a 19th-century cheese factory. Handler moved into
the space in 1970, making it one of the longest continuously running glass
art studios in the country, she said.

One of the couple's joint pieces is "Wedding Pair," two glass pears crafted
by Handler on a whimsical wooden bench by Martner.

"I really feel as if I'm a storyteller. That's what I really like to do,"
said Handler as she showed the piece, along with curvaceous glass platters
filled with glass fruits that resemble the real thing.

"Even as a kid I collected glass perfume bottles. I've always been
fascinated with glass," she said. "I think the bowls of fruit - I've tried
to analyze where that came from. My mother always had big bowls of fruit and
big chunks of chocolate (sitting out). That was part of my growing up."

Handler's style "is instantly recognizable, and to me that is a measure of
(an artist's) success," said Reid of the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

"Glass is a very tricky medium. If you're doing painting or watercolor or
printmaking or in most cases sculpture, it's very tactile, it's very
hands-on," he said. "Glass is tricky because you can't touch it until it's
too late to do anything about it. You're always working it through a third
party - a piece of wood, a piece of newspaper, or some kinds of tongs or

"And (Handler) does these remarkable, beautiful pieces, almost like trompe
l'oeil - these pieces of fruit that are amazingly deceptively simple," he
said. "Look at the subtle colors. Look at the way the stalk and delicate
leaves come out - how do you make that without the whole thing shattering?"

Some pieces do break in the making, and the glassblower must decide
instantly whether to try to remake them or move on.

"I've always been the kind of person who likes to try something new,"
Handler said.

"We're all touched by life, and I find that things that I do come out in my



Audrey Handler



Tony Patti
 <http://www.glassblower.info> www.glassblower.info
 <mailto:gaffer at glassblower.info> gaffer at glassblower.info

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