This first comprehensive work on Mary Shaffer illuminates her radical life and art, from a single mother in the '70s entering the male-dominated world of glass art to the renowned master she is today. A pioneering figure in the American Studio Glass Movement, she expanded the art form with her innovative mid-air slumping technique, which uses gravity to create flowing, organic shapes from glass. Nearly 200 photos covering four decades feature her iconic slumped and cast glass art, as well as large outdoor sculptures, conceptual installations, and commissioned pieces.
Personal stories shed light on integral figures, moments, and developments in studio glass art throughout her career, giving rare insider insight to artists, students, and collectors. A foreword by Jane Adlin and contributions from Lucy R. Lippard and William Warmus delve further into Shaffer's artistic philosophy and legacy—one rooted in dissolving the binaries of liquid/solid, female/male, intangible/tangible, personal/political.
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Interview by Mike Tilly KCEI, Aug 2019
OK Harris NYC 1974, Providence, RI 1974, Rome 1973
Power of opposites
I believed that every point in time was equal to every other and that opposites are similar.
In Rome the construction sites used a green plastic mesh to cover the facades of buildings while work was being done. It was thought to be non-flammable so I decided to burn it up using electronic heating elements, the kind used in electric stoves. I found straight ones that would glow red hot. Because I was using high voltage the structure of the heating elements had to be done in three phase. 3 phase means that each electric ‘leg’ had to be in balance, or using as much electricity as each of the other two ‘legs’. So it becomes a balanced structure.
“Fire-Laundry” was exhibited at OK Harris in NYC with the electrical structure and a faked electrical box on the wall. I also had a tape recording of the sounds of the non-flammable material burning—it sounded like electronic music.
Rome, Italy 1975
Locating an exact time
I wondered how someone could communicate an exact time, what that would look like. I decided I would have to find a group of stars that pointed to a place in space by their pattern and structure. Since the universe is moving outward, the stars’ alignment would also denote an exact time. I was surprised to learn there were no three-dimensional maps of the universe then. The work was published in Rome along with that of other conceptual artists.
Providence, RI 1972
Murray State University, Murray, KY 1977
Comment on traditional sculpture
I was teaching sculpture at the University of RI although it was a studio class, I also talked about the development of sculptural ideas. When I was explaining Rodin’s Burghers of Calais and how Rodin decided to go against tradition and put the figures directly on the ground, not on plinths or sculpture stands. I started thinking about cars, how they are the sculptures of our time. They are an amazing composite of more than a 1,000 different carefully crafted pieces combined into one machine. I decided the perfect pedestal would be a water puddle.
At Murray State University I organized a performance. We dug a hole, filled it with water and put a car in it. Students volunteered to be the performer, or driver. It was a surprise to them how aggressive and angry the passersby were. The anger was similar to what Chris Burden said about his performance work “Five Day Locker Piece,” he said the students were combative and scary in his helpless, vulnerable position locked in a school locker and would poke things at him.