My work is based on the rejuvenation and reuse of American pressed glass. The majority of the material I use is “cullet” or the scrap glass left after the production run in a glass factory. I travel and search for cullet yards throughout the country where there are barrels and piles of old dead stock colors which I then remelt scrap by scrap through the process of flameworking into the multitude of forms that create each of my sculptures. The glass that I use is generally procured from now defunct pressed glass manufacturers.
Throughout the mid-1800’s to the mid 1900’s pressed glass manufacturing was an enormous industry that employed many Americans in the east coast and midwest of the country. Because of the popularity of design and ease production by the mid-19th century most inexpensive glassware was pressed.
Nowadays, this material is out of fashion and popularity and destined for the dustbin of American design. I take this material which is abundant on the shelves of thrift stores and flea markets and rejuvenate it into a new second-life.
When I began working with this type of glass it started out of a financial need for more inexpensive material. I was in graduate school and found a barrel of old pink glass behind the furnaces of the studio. This barrel was filled with an old cullet run of pink easter candy dishes with rabbits and chicken lids. The color was beautiful and technically it melted very similarly to the glass I was trained to work. This almost coincidental discovery transformed into a passion for history, industry and a new love affair with the material to which I was already in love. I began researching the rich history of the colors that I found in the yards. These barrels of color are often the last of their run and thus, I will essentially give the colors their final resting place.
For the past several years I unexpectedly and often receive packages filled with old glass from complete strangers. People feel guilty about getting rid of these objects even when they are broken so they send them to me in hopes of giving them a new life.
In my most recent works I have been taking an unapologetic view of my feminine perspective and have been more vulnerable to express the themes I see in my personal life. I use the collected glass objects as recurring characters to represent and symbolize themes I am working through in my daily life. These themes include loneliness, the search for meaning, the search for love and the following of symbolism in the mundane.
Recently, I have been highly influenced by the painters Gertrude Abercrombie and Agnes Pelton. Their use of surrealism to visualize mysticism, symbolism, grief and the dark beauty of the unknown has been inspiring to my practice. My pieces have become a theater of acts where the characters can be followed from one scene to the next.
Amber Cowan’s sculptural glasswork is based around the use of recycled, upcycled, and second-life American pressed glass. She uses the processes of flameworking, hot-sculpting and glassblowing to create large-scale sculptures that overwhelm the viewer with ornate abstraction and viral accrual. With an instinctive nature towards horror vacui, her pieces reference memory, domesticity and the loss of an industry through the re-use of common items from the aesthetic dustbin of American design. Her recent diorama-style pieces tell stories of female loneliness, self-discovery and escapism by using figurines and animals found in vintage pressed glass pieces as recurring symbols within her narrative.
Cowan lives in Philadelphia where she received an MFA in Ceramics/Glass from Tyler School of Art and Architecture of Temple University. In Philadelphia she is currently living and working in a former corner deli which she is converting into a studio. Her work can be seen in museum collections across the US and world.
The Toledo Museum of Art
The RISD Museum
The Hunter Museum of American Art
The Corning Museum of Glass
The Imagine Museum
The Shanghai Museum of Glass
The Museum of Glass Tacoma
China Academy of Art
Wichita Art Museum
The Speed Museum (Promised Gift)
The de Young Museum (Promised Gift)
A New State of Matter: Contemporary Glass. Group Exhibition. The Grand Rapids Art Museum. Grand Rapids, MI
Objects USA 2020. Group Exhibition. R&Company Gallery. NYC
20 in Twenty. Group Exhibition. Sandwich Glass Museum. Sandwich, MA
The F Word: We Mean Female! Group Exhibition. The Hunter Museum of American Art. Chattanooga, TN
Group Exhibition, Chautauqua Institution. Chautauqua, NY
Burke Prize 2019 Exhibition. The Museum of Arts and Design. NYC
Salacia. Solo Exhibition: Heller Gallery. NYC
Philadelphia: Then and Now, 1950-2019. Group Exhibition. Bertrand Productions. Philadelphia, PA
A New State of Matter. Group Exhibition. Boise Art Museum. Boise, ID
The Bleak and the Burgeoning. Group Exhibition. The Walton Arts Center. Fayetteville, AK
Re/Collection. Solo Exhibition: The Fuller Craft Museum. Brockton, MA
iGlass. Group Exhibition. Levant Art Gallery. Shanghai, China
Current Reflections on the Natural and Man Made. Group Exhibition. The Landmark Arts Gallery. Texas Tech University. Lubbock, TX
HUSH. Group Exhibition. The Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA