Glass as art: lessons for would-be collectors of contemporary work

If you want to know how to go about beginning a studio glass collection of works by contemporary artists, take some advice from experts Dorothy and George Saxe of Menlo Park, Calif. Sixty-three of the 200 superb pieces they have collected in the last eight years are now on view, through Oct. 18, at the American Museum of Crafts in New York. The exhibit was first organized and shown at the Oakland (Calif.) Museum.

The couple have been attracted to a range of techniques and styles, and their collection is considered to have few rivals in scope and historical breadth. It includes works from England, the United States, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and Ireland, and names like Harvey Littleton, Dale Chihuly, and Marvin Lipopsky.

The Saxes discovered glass in 1980. After years of pursuing separate interests, they saw immediately that this was an interest they could develop together.

``Glass collecting has opened up a whole new world to us and has literally changed our lives,'' says Dorothy Saxe. ``The people we have met and the friends we have made have been fabulous!''

The Saxes say they would advise would-be collectors to follow their path:

Learn all you can about glass before you buy a single piece. Study glass and the art of glassmaking. Then go the galleries and talk to dealers. Find out all you can about the artists they represent and the types of glass they make.

Subscribe to craft and glass periodicals. The Saxes recommend the following: American Craft Magazine, PO Box 1308-CL, Fort Lee, NJ 07024; New Glass, a quarterly in German and English, PO Box 8l20, D-4000, D"usseldorf 1, West Germany; New Glass Review (a listing of all exhibits in museums and private galleries around the world that include glass), published by the Corning Museum, One Museum Way, Corning, NY 14830; New Work a quarterly publication put out by the New York Experimental Glass Workshop, 142 Mulberry Street, New York, NY, 10013.

Study the glass shown at the better craft fairs, such as those sponsored by American Craft Enterprises, the marketing arm of the American Craft Council, as well as by top craft galleries.

Check out museums in your area that might be having exhibitions of glass you could attend.

Visit artists in their studios and see their work in process. Get to know artists and try to understand their points of view, what they are striving toward in their work. Listen carefully.

Join a glass collectors club if there is one is near you. Collectors learn much from each other. The Saxes belong to the Metropolitan Glass Collectors in New Jersey and to a new collectors group formed by Pilchuk School in Stanwood, Wash., where they are both on the board of trustees.

They have made a practice of dealing only through galleries.

``We believe that the marketing of art glass needs three components: the artist, the collector, and the gallery dealer. The dealer is necessary to the process because he makes the art more accessible to people who might not see it otherwise.... We depend on our gallery network around the country to keep us up to date and apprised of new artists and special exhibitions,'' says Mrs. Saxe.

The Saxes keep their glass collection in a small San Francisco apartment. It's ``all over the place ... on pedestals, shelves, coffee tables, in the bedroom and the bathroom and kitchen,'' says George Saxe. ``We have had to have interior designers come in to help us light and display it. We call that apartment our `glass house,' because everything in it relates to glass, including all the books on the coffee table.''

``It's the fun of the chase that excites me most of all. It has added a new dimension to our lives that we love.'' Both Saxes are now involved in several craft organizations, including the American Craft Council.

Paul Smith, director of the American Craft Museum, calls the Saxes ``part of that new group of really committed collectors.''

``They have been collecting with the idea that they are developing a major documentation of works of current studio glass artists,'' Mr. Smith says.

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