While the elevation of handblown glass to a fine art form is a recent phenomenon, the origin of that transcendence can be directly traced to the philosophy of Harvey Littleton. As an educator and artist, Littleton aimed to connect the labor of glassblowing on the factory floor with the artistry of composition handled by the designer at a desk. Inspired by his own works in ceramics and the art of glassblowing in Europe, Littleton fought to change the American perception of what glass art looked like and how it was created. In 1962, at the Toledo Museum of Art, Littleton conducted the first glassblowing seminar aimed at the artist. He went on to integrate the art of glassblowing into the fine art curriculum at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which pioneered the innovation of glass art in America throughout much of the 1960s and 70s. Many of Littleton’s students went on to become prominent glass artists, including Bill Boysen, Dale Chihuly, and Fritz Dreisbach.
In his early glasswork, Harvey Littleton focused on functional forms. As time went on, he began to deconstruct the traditional vases and bowls into something more fragmented and artistic. Eventually, those broken forms evolved to geometric shapes that held no reference to traditional vessels. These geometric shapes of color were grouped together on steel or glass plates, creating a composed work of art with multiple pieces of glass instead of relying on the piece of glass to be the entire composition. Littleton frequently used a technique that made the color appear to “float” within a clear casing. Littleton continued to innovate and experiment with new glass art techniques throughout his career, including vitreography (printmaking using glass plates.). Harvey Littleton passed away in 2013.