with Amber Cowan
In her solo show Gathering the Sky, Mining the Milk, Amber Cowan emphasizes the legacy of color. Through intricately layered dioramas of pressed glass, the Philadelphia-based artist explores the histories of lavender, jade, and opaque white. Her assemblages meld custom and found pieces sourced from primarily defunct factories in the United States, many of which produced a specific palette of colors like the sky blue of “Ecco to the Bridesmaid: ‘I Know Not What Has Happened to Your Pod.” Comprised of two symmetrically shaped panels, the diptych blends an array of materials and generational references, including the 1992 Sega video game Ecco the Dolphin and the emblem of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the artist behind the iconic opalescent stained glass lamps.
Similar to Cowan’s earlier works, these new reliefs are brimming with foliage, flowers, and small baubles that encircle a scenic component embedded in the center. Figurative statues like the artist’s recurring bridesmaid character, miniature bird sculptures, chalices, and Greco-style columns infuse the pieces with narrative detail.
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Philadelphia-based artist Amber Cowan (previously) molds found and flameworked glass into narrative sculptures brimming with ornate flourishes and enchanting details. Her delicate works are often monochromatic and revitalize vintage elements, including a figure from a McKee Glass Company vase in “Visions of the Night Muse in Jade,” for example, or the baubles in varying shades of purple that comprise “Hummingbirds Feast on Helio and Lavender.” The pressed glass pieces pay homage to the once-thriving industry by recasting antique scenes and motifs in new tableaus.
Diverging slightly from the precisely sculpted forms that comprise much of her work, Cowan has started to incorporate long drips into her more recent sculptures. In her vertical cornucopia and fountain pieces, leaves and other botanicals hanging over the edges of the vessels appear malleable as they splash into small, circular drops.
In January, Cowan’s solo show will open at Brunnier Art Museum at Iowa State University, and if you’re in New York City, stop by the Museum of Arts and Design in February to see some of the artist’s work as part of Craft Front & Center. Otherwise, keep up with her latest sculptures on Instagram.
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The monochromatic assemblages of Amber Cowan (previously) are at once domestic narratives and homages to an abandoned industry. Delicate baubles frame a central figure or scene that the Philadelphia-based artist illustrates with scraps of pressed glass. Whether focused on a lone bridesmaid or a hen hoarding eggs, Cowan’s works explore the feminine experience through themes of “loneliness, the search for meaning, the search for love, and the following of symbolism in the mundane.”
Cowan shops at antique stores and markets for materials, although she more frequently scours scrapyards around the country for discarded bits of glass, which are known as cullets. As a whole, the now-defunct industry was booming from the mid-1800s before it dropped off during the 20th Century. “Nowadays, this material is out of fashion and relegated to the dustbin of American design,” the artist writes, noting that she often finds masses of historic hues at the scrapyards. “These barrels of color are often the last of their run, and my work will essentially give the formulas their final resting place and visually abundant celebration of life.”
Some of Cowan’s work is included in the recently published book, Objects: USA 2020. If you’re in New York, her piece “Dance of the Pacific Coast Highway at Sunset” is permanently on view at The Museum of Arts and Design, and she’s also part of an upcoming group exhibition at R & Co. Gallery. Until then, explore more of her textured sculptures on her site and Instagram.
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In the latest collection by Amber Cowan (previously), colorful vintage glass is sculpted into three fairytale stories: Bridesmaid’s Forest, Bridesmaid’s Search for the Desert Rose, and Grotto of the Chocolate Nymph. Cowan transforms discarded glass from the 1900s into sculptural “paintings” that burst with natural forms, and her latest collection of monochrome scenes effortlessly tempts viewers into their enchanted worlds.
Cowan first curates the color of each piece, collecting specific figurines and animals from vintage glass works. She then melts the rest of the glass through a methodical flameworking process to create the scenery that will surround the found figurines. Leaves, flowers, feathers, and tiny glistening pearls are carefully crafted to fill each dense, botanical world.
The female figurine central to her mint-green Bridesmaid’s Forest was originally part of a glass ornament called The Bridesmaid, which was pressed from the Ohio-based Fenton Art Glass Factory. Cowan built a fantastical world around the bridesmaid, sculpting a colorful leaf-filled forest that features a whale, snail, and duck nestled within the fragile glass shrubbery. “My story with this piece is that the bridesmaid got bored of the wedding and wandered off to make her own fun,” Cowan explains to Colossal. “It is kind of a fantasy landscape.”
Bridesmaid’s Search for the Desert Rose is a spiritual adventure where the natural elements featured in the piece were chosen for their symbolism and how they relate to the bridesmaid’s story. “The figurine is standing in front of a pyramidal line pointed towards the sun; next to her is her feline companion and across from her is the totem animal of the giraffe symbolizing the ability to see into the future and obtain things that are normally out of reach,” she explains. At the base of the sculpture are two swans that fill the narrative with themes of intuition, self-actualization, and love.
Cowan’s chocolate-colored Grotto of the Chocolate Nymph, is exhibited in the permanent collection of The Toledo Museum of Art and was inspired by Jan Brueghel the Elder’s painting A Fantastic Cave with Odysseus and Calypso in addition to the 16th century Grotto Grande in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. “Chocolate Nymph” refers to “chocolate glass,” a popular glass color in the early 1900s that is no longer produced.
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Artist Amber Cowan works primarily with fragments of vintage pressed glass to construct complex vessels and sculptures with a multitude of fused components. Pressed glass is created when molten glass is forced into a mold as a way to mass-produce certain forms. Cowan uses these found pieces to create remarkable one-of-a-kind objects that reference the rise and fall of US glassware manufacturing, while simultaneously offering a new narrative. You can see more of Cowan’s work on her website, Instagram, and at Heller Gallery. (thnx, Laura!)
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.