Artistic glass, once unlikely to be autobiographical, has come a long way in the past half-century, and—perhaps unexpectedly—Florida is a good place to see its wide variety. A traveler can begin midway down the peninsula with the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art near Orlando, home of a large collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), of the stained glass and colorful lampshades. Other collections reflect the advent of studio glass, which has revolutionized glass art since the 1960s. Before that, most glassmaking took place in factory settings according to designers’ specifications, says Jill Deupi, chief curator and director of the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., which has a pavilion devoted largely to glass and ceramics. With the advent of free-standing small furnaces that artists could operate in studios, a new generation began creating vivid, striking and sometimes highly personal works. The Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg offers some of these recent pieces; also in the city, there’s a permanent collection of works by Dale Chihuly, who at 77 years old is among the most prominent glass artists.
In Sarasota, RichardBasch, a retired radiologist, and his wife, Barbara, are supplying the pieces for “10th Anniversary—Glass Then and Now,” an exhibition that begins Jan. 8 at the visual arts center the Basch family funded for the Ringling College of Art and Design. Dr. Basch and his wife, who have been collecting for about a quarter century, say their home now has so many glass pieces that they store some of them in shower stalls. “It’s literally our life,” says Dr. Basch, 85. About three dozen of the 300 pieces they have donated to Ringling College will be part of the January show. The vessels in a Chihuly group of 12 pieces from 1988 on display, “Navaho Orange Persian Set With Cobalt Blue Lip Wrap,” have wide, wavy lips and other shapes that, when viewed together, might bring to mind flying carpets, Arabic patterns or, in the wild clash between orange and blue, the lab tools of a mad scientist.
Animals abound: A patchwork elephant (circa 2003) by Richard Marquis, who created many of his works on an island in Puget Sound, carries a vase of the same patchwork pattern on its back; the sculpture is less than 10 inches high. William Morris’s similarly scaled 2000 “Antelope Head With Ferrets” depicts the animals, tails with streaks of brilliant red, cavorting on a stylized version of a presumably deceased antelope. In Coral Gables, the vase created when Ms. Russell-Pool was pregnant, “Blue Banded Vessel with Birds and Blue Berries” is among works in “Dialogues: Studio Glass from the Florence and Robert WernerCollection” at the Lowe Art Museum. (The Werners are another set of glass-obsessed Floridians.) On her website, Ms. Russell-Pool says her art is “autobiographical, and although objects are my vehicle, I think of them as self portraits.” Later iterations in her “banded vessel” series have focused on flowered lattices and are solely her work. A separate show highlights about 40 pieces by Giampaolo Seguso. The artist, 76 years old and born to one of Venice’s famous glassmaking families, often inscribes his poems into his abstract glass pieces.
Asked to name the work he owns that means the most to him, Dr. Basch picked one that because of its rarity probably won’t make it to the Ringling exhibition: a “La Fenice” vase by Archimede Seguso, Giampaolo’s father. In 1996, the 86-year-old watched from his home nearby as Venice’s beloved theater, La Fenice (the Phoenix), burned. The next day, he went to his studio and began responding in glass to the tragedy. Dr. Basch’s vase, of white and red bursts on a field of black, conjures up the night’s fire, steam and smoke. Seguso, who died in 1999, didn’t live to see it, but La Fenice rose again.