Through the looking glass

Artist Amber Cowan visits 'Berg to talk about creating sculpture glass art.

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On April 10, artist Amber Cowan visited Muhlenberg College and gave a talk about her sculptural glasswork. Amber Cowan creates her pieces using recycled glass materials and uses flameworking, hot sculpting and glass-blowing techniques to create large-scale sculptures. During her lecture, Cowan showed a video where she uses bonsai shears and a tabletop torch to create her glass art. Cowan prefers horror vacui, meaning there is a minimum amount of empty spaces in her artwork. Some recurring themes in her work include memory, domesticity and how art can be rejuvenated through the reuse of American pressed glass. 

Cowan detailed how her primary material is “cullet.” This term describes scrap glass from pressed glass factories, but they can occasionally be found in antique stores, flea markets and donations of broken antiques from households across the United States. While Cowan was in graduate school, she found a barrel filled with old pink glass from pink easter candy dishes with rabbits and chicken lids. As the glass melted very similarly to the glass she was trained to work with, she ended up using it for her artwork. This story developed her passion for finding the history behind the colors she uses for the work she creates. During her talk, she discussed the history of peach flow. 

Lately, Cowan has been looking at her feminine perspective and has thought about expressing themes she sees in her personal life. For example, she has a continuous theme with her latest glasswork of a female figurine going on different adventures. Cowan specifically brought up a piece where the figure was about to get married, but instead she decided to go outside and enjoy nature. The piece used a light green color of pressed glass that was able to vividly show the female figurine along with elements of the outside world. 

Jessica Ambler, the director of the Martin Art Gallery, detailed how she discovered Amber Cowan. She “first read about Amber Cowan’s work in a Hyperallergic article about her recent exhibition at WheatonArts’ Museum of American Glass. I was intrigued by her complex and unusual glass sculptures so I reached out to her. She was kind enough to invite me and one of my student gallery assistants (Lizard Foley ‘24) for a studio visit in Philadelphia, where she showed us current projects she’s working on, the types of glass she utilizes, and how she constructs these intricate works.” 

In regards to what Muhlenberg students can take away from Cowan’s art, Ambler stated, “I think that the delicate beauty of Amber’s works belies the depth of meaning within them. She works with recurrent motifs and considers topics like womanhood and aging in her compositions. Another thing that stands out to me is the amount of research Amber conducts as an integral part of her practice. Since she utilizes antique American glass, often made by now-defunct companies, she invests a great amount of time research[ing] when and where each piece was made.” 

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Shaiyan Feisal '26 is a neuroscience major with a minor in public health. She enjoys writing news and arts & culture pieces to highlight the various voices among the student body and show the variety of commodities Muhlenberg has to offer. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading murder mystery novels and painting.

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