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Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University Fine Art Museum Vitreograph Collection


The Fine Art Museum of Western Carolina University is home to the complete archive of 723 vitreograph editions published at Littleton Studios. The first group exhibition of the prints to include works by painters and printmakers, as well as glass artists, was at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina in 1986. Seventeen artists were represented in the exhibition, all of whom had created their prints at Littleton Studios


About Harvey Littleton

Harvey K. Littleton is known as the father of the American Studio Glass Movement. He was born in Corning, New York where his father, Dr. Jesse T. Littleton, Jr., was Director of Research for Corning Glass Works. A physicist, Dr. Littleton is remembered today as the developer of Pyrex glassware. Expected by his father to enter the field of physics, Littleton instead chose a career in art, gaining recognition first as a ceramist and later as a glassblower and sculptor in glass. In the latter capacity, he was very influential, organizing the first glassblowing seminar aimed at the studio artist in 1962, on the grounds of the Toledo Museum of Art. This was the event that launched, what is now known as, the American Studio Glass Movement.

As a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in the summer of 1974, he taught a workshop in cold-working techniques for glass artists. To cold-work glass is to shape or sculpt cold (as opposed to hot or molten) glass, or to produce texture or decoration on its surface. As a result of experimenting with various resists for sandblasting, Littleton became intrigued by the possibility of printmaking asked his colleague at the University of Wisconsin, printmaker Warrington Colescott, to ink five of the sandblasted plates from the workshop and print them onto paper. The first plate broke under pressure, but after making some adjustments to the press, the rest of the glass plates printed “like dreamboats,” Colescott said. Harvey called these prints ‘Vitreographs’ from the Latin vitreo meaning glass, and graph meaning print.

Shortly after the launch of the first vitreograph experiments, Harvey accepted an invitation by one of his former students and good friend, WCU Professor of Ceramics Joan Falconer Byrd, to open the second exhibition in a series called North Carolina Glass in 1976. After touring Western North Carolina, and in particular, Penland School, which had developed into an important center in the art of glass, Harvey and his wife Bess decided to move to Spruce Pine, NC.

From his new studio in Spruce Pine, Harvey continued to work on his experiments in glass. In 1982 Littleton invited curator Jane Kessler of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina to see the prints that were being created at Littleton Studios. Kessler was impressed by the new technique, and recommended that experienced painters and printmakers be invited to the studio to explore the medium. It was through Kessler’s support that Littleton Studios received a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts made which made it possible for master painters and printmakers to experiment with the vitreographs process in Spruce Pine.


Noteable Artists

Since 1981 over 100 artists have worked in collaboration with Littleton Studios to publish vitreograph prints. They include Harvey Littleton's colleagues in glass art, Dale Chihuly, Erwin Eisch, Shane Fero, Stanislav Libenský, Paul Stankard, Therman Statom, Sybren Valkema and Ann Wolff. Littleton also invited painters, sculptors and printmakers to Littleton Studios to explore the possibilities and limitations of vitreography. Painters Walter Darby Bannard, Louisa Chase, Herb Jackson, Mildred Thompson, Emilio Vedova and John Wilde; potters Cynthia Bringle and John Glick, sculptors Sergei Isupov and Italo Scanga and printmakers Glen Alps, Ken Kerslake, Karen Kunc, Judith O’Rourke and Dan Welden are a few of the artists whose work has been published by the studio.


About the Vitreograph Process

Glass plates that are 3/8 inches thick and commonly used for windows or shelving, are run through an etching press for both the intaglio and planographic prints. Intaglio vitreographs are achieved by abrading the surface of the plate by blasting with sand or Carborundum; frosting and etching with hydrofluoric acid and/or grinding with diamond tip tools or other hard points or wheels. These techniques create recessed areas in the glass surface that will hold ink. Planographic vitreographs are made using a stencil of silicone over water-soluble drawing materials. After the silicone is cured and the drawing is washed out, the plates are rolled up and printed like traditional a lithograph, but without water. The silicone layer repels ink in non-image areas.

In addition to being relatively inexpensive, glass is chemically inert. It does not oxidize, nor does it change or interact with the composition of printing inks, especially yellows and whites, which can turn green or gray in contact with metal plates. Another advantage of vitreograph printmaking is its ability to withstand the pressure of the printing press with no discernible breakdown of the imagery, even after numerous runs. The transparency of the glass plate can be used to advantage, in that the plate may be placed over a preliminary drawing on paper to guide the artist in creating a drawing on the plate.