Harvey K. Littleton

Age: 91
Address: Spruce Pine, North Carolina
Date of Death:  Friday, December 13, 2013
Arrangements: Yancey Funeral Services

Details:  Sculptor Harvey K. Littleton, founder of the studio glass movement, died in Spruce Pine, North Carolina on December 13th 2013. He was 91 years of age.
     A visionary artist, teacher and spokesman for the arts, Littleton brought glassblowing from the factory into the studio, setting in motion the dramatic development of glass as a medium in contemporary art. His book Glassblowing: A Search for Form, published in 1971, is considered the manifesto of the movement. Littleton devoted four decades of his professional life to pushing the boundaries of the medium, creating powerful sculptures exploiting the physical properties of molten glass and developing the technique for printing from glass plates.
     A son of the first research physicist at Corning Glass Works, Littleton learned his love of glass as a child, while absorbing the dictum of industry that it was impossible to work with hot glass outside the factory. He made his first sculptures in the medium at an experimental laboratory at Corning, where he cast one female torso in 1941 and second in 1946, after his return from military service in Europe during World War II.
     Littleton received his bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the University of Michigan and briefly practiced in the field before earning his MFA degree in ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. While a student of Cranbrook ceramicist, Maija Grotell, he spent three days of each week teaching pottery at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, where he made two friends who would become his allies in the founding of the studio glass movement a decade later:  Otto Wittmann, then a museum staffer, and Dominick Labino, a glass researcher at Johns-Manville Corporation.
     In 1952 Littleton joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin. He built an international reputation in ceramics before a research trip to Europe in 1957-58 rekindled his fascination with glass. Encountering small glassblowing facilities in Spain and Italy, he became convinced that it was possible to build a studio-sized furnace that would bring hot glass within the reach of the individual artist. Back at home he melted small batches of glass in his studio and applied for grant funding to establish a glass program at the university. When he failed to raise foundation support, he accepted the invitation of Wittmann, who was then director of the Toledo Museum of Art, to introduce glassblowing at the museum. The success of the two groundbreaking workshops he taught in Toledo in 1962, with technical assistance from Labino, enabled Littleton to offer a course for University of Wisconsin credit that that fall. The class he taught in his home studio was the first hot glass course ever offered by a university in the US. Soon the drama of glassblowing captivated his students; and the course, housed in a university facility, entered the regular curriculum.
     The emerging studio glass movement gained velocity in summer 1964, when Littleton invited his friend, Erwin Eisch of Bavaria, to demonstrate glassblowing beside him and his students at the First World Congress of Crafts in New York City. Following the demonstrations, glass designer Sybren Valkema of Holland built the first Labino-style glass furnace on the Continent at the Reitveld Academy in Vienna. From this time on, the movement spread rapidly as Littleton and his peers were joined by graduates of his program, Dale Chihuly and Marvin Lipofsky among them, taking the message across the country and around the world.  The purchase of Littleton’s work by the Museum of Modern Art in 1965 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1977 and the traveling exhibition “New Glass: a Worldwide Survey,” curated by the Corning Museum of Glass in 1978, were landmark events signaling the growing recognition of studio glass.
     In 1977 the University of Wisconsin granted Littleton Professor Emeritus status and he moved his home and studio to North Carolina. Now his central focus, his sculptures developed rapidly in size and scope and assumed a commanding presence.  Littleton exhibited widely and was an eloquent spokesperson for glass and for the arts. In 1983 he built a second studio to house the investigation of printing from glass plates, now known as vitreography; Littleton Studios editioned prints by more than one hundred artists in various media who were invited to expand the repertoire of this flexible graphic medium.
     Littleton had one life-long love, Bess Tamura Littleton, who he was married to for 62 years.  Each of Littleton’s four children has a career associated with glass. Carol Littleton Shay curated the Littleton Studio vitreographs; Tom Littleton owns and directs the Spruce Pine Batch Company, which sells pelletized glass for melting in the studio furnace; Maurine Littleton owns and directs the Maurine Littleton Gallery in Washington, DC; and John Littleton and his wife, Kate Vogel are artists who work in glass.
The family will host a private celebration of the lives of Harvey and of Bess January 11th, 2014.   
      In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Hospice and Palliative Care of the Blue Ridge, that has provided invaluable support in the care for Harvey, mail to 236 Hospital Drive, Spruce Pine, NC 28777 or at www.hospicemc.com/how-you-can-help/donate or to the Penland School of Crafts “Harvey and Bess Littleton Scholarship Fund”, that provides one full scholarship for a two-week summer session in hot glass,   visit the website at http://penland.org/support/endowedscholarshipfunds.html.  To send online condolences, please visit the website at www.yanceyfuneralservice.com.

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