House of glass

Once the engine of a vigorous industry, glass now sparkles at the Toledo Museum of Art.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Once the "glass capital" of America, the city of Toledo now boasts the elegant new Glass Pavilion to showcase its renowned collection of glass artwork from around the world.

The graceful building in the Toledo Museum of Art complex – with its curved, transparent interior and exterior walls – houses some 5,000 masterpieces as well as workspace for contemporary artists. The works range from the third-century Roman Empire to Islam's Golden Age, 17th-century France, and contemporary America, though not all are currently on display.

A nine-foot chandelier by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly dazzles in the lobby.

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With no right angles, the pavilion encourages exploring as well as eavesdropping on local artists in the state-of-the-art "hot shops" and lampworking studio, where you can see them at work. Those in the community eager for hands-on experience can take classes in glass blowing, beadmaking, and stained glass.

In its unique design, the stunning structure pays tribute to the city's history as a center of creative and technical advances in working with glass.

In the late 19th century, businessman Edward Libbey built the first glass factory in Toledo, where the industry grew to dozens of companies. Libbey's creative partnership with Michael Owens spurred developments from light bulbs to the first bottlemaking machine to sheet glass for use in windows and automobiles. In the 1960s, engineer and glassblower Dominick Labino and others in the area sparked the artistic renaissance of the American Studio Glass movement.

The pavilion's Japanese architects from SANAA, Ltd., utilized the latest techniques of glass design and fabrication in the $30 million building. Close to 475 glass panels were curved into walls, with two panes laminated together for durability. A shading system helps protect the artwork from changing light patterns.

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