New York — ''I am happy because I see so much to do ahead!'' says wiry Harvey Littleton, whose work in ceramics and glass is on view in a retrospective at the American Craft Museum II, 77 W. 45th Street, in New York through Jan. 12, l985.
The vigorous artist-craftsman, widely known as the pioneer and leader of the modern studio glass movement, says he is looking forward to at least another 20 years of exploring the possibilities of glass in his studio at Spruce Pine, N.C.
Mr. Littleton retired from university teaching in 1976 after 25 years at the University of Wisconsin and began to concentrate on creating a body of his own work. His North Carolina studio, 50 miles northeast of Asheville, has become a focus for a whole community of resident and visiting glass blowers; several members of his own family are working with him as well.
The exhibition of 105 objects traces the artist's development from studio potter (he worked 13 years in ceramics) to internationally recognized glass sculptor. Here is the visual evidence of his artistic progression using numerous transformations of hot molten glass - including bending, breaking, imploding, exploding, slicing, layering, folding, looping, and sculpturing.
''I don't do much sketching and I rarely have a preconceived notion of what I plan to make,'' Mr. Littleton says. ''One piece grows out of another. I work directly with the glass. I am a sculptor. I have to manipulate the material. I exploit so many things: the way glass bends, its solidity or heaviness as well as its shimmery lightness and transparency. I range from tidy geometrics to expressionistic blobs of color and twisted design. Now I am experimenting with making colored prints from etched glass plates.''
Mr. Littleton's interest in the art of glass blowing began in 1957. While on a research trip to Europe, he saw glass used by individual artists as an expressive medium. ''Before,'' he says, ''I had thought that glass was an industrial material and had to be made with a team of workers rather than in a studio working alone.'' On his return he began to work with glass in his Wisconsin studio, slowly finding his way by experimentation.
He researched and developed a small studio-size furnace, and in l962, with glass engineer Dominick Labino, presented a Toledo Ohio? Museum workshop that introduced artists to the possibilities of working with molten glass in their own studios.
His influence grew as he lectured extensively at craft conferences on the potential of the medium, and he established a hot-glass program at the University of Wisconsin, the first of its kind in the United States. This paved the way for the formal training of hundreds of glass blowers in colleges and universities throughout the country.
''I love the material and have been able over the years to communicate the excitement that I feel about it,'' the former teacher explains. ''My students were responsive and talented. I have had to work hard to stay ahead of them or even with them. That is why I am still working so hard.''
During his teaching years, he says, ''I helped students in their studios and they helped me in mine. We all grew together. In this field there is very little jealousy between one artist and another. There is a lot of communication and sharing.''
One of Mr. Littleton's first students, Marvin Lipofsky, who earned the first Wisconsin master of fine arts degree in glass, led dramatic developments in studio glass blowing on the West Coast. Other graduates include Sam Herman, who has spread the movement to England; Dale Chihuly, who established the Pilchuck Glass Center and the glass department at the Rhode Island School of Design; and Fritz Dreisbach, who is now at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.
Mr. Littleton thinks of himself as a ''cheerleader for glass art in particular and an evangelist for the arts in general.'' He has found himself on the cutting edge of a ''revolution in the arts which began in the 1930s and extends to the present.'' He has helped define the place of the artist in today's society and the intimate ''art experience'' that links the artist and his art to the collector who purchases, lives with, and appreciates it.
Today, Mr. Littleton's work is represented in 65 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and in many other public, corporate, and private collections. Prices for his pieces range from $4,000 to $25,000 and at least one object has fetched $38,000.
''I am in debt'' he says, ''to all the adventurous new galleries in this country who are so successfully bringing contemporary artists and the public together.''
The artist was exposed to the beauty of glass from earliest boyhood, since his father was director of research at the Corning Glass Works in Corning, N.Y. He studied industrial design at the University of Michigan, and later earned a master of fine arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
The retrospective of Mr. Littleton's work was organized by Atlanta's High Museum of Art where it will be shown from April 28 to June 16, 1985. It will be at the Brunnier Gallery and Museum at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, from Feb. 10 to April 7, and at the Milwaukee Art Museum from Sept. 15 to Oct. 30. The Portland, Maine, Museum of Art will exhibit the show, which is partially supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, from Nov. 20, 1985, to Jan. 5, 1986.