There’s so much fanfare around glass this season, thanks to the Dale Chihuly exhibit at Biltmore Estate and six months of companion events around the region, that one might briefly forget it’s not always about 2,000-degree flames and potential spectacular breakage. Thanks to this popular image coming out of Penland School of Crafts — the Southern pioneer of the studio-glass movement, no less — it’s time to appreciate a more obscure slice of the genre: back-breakingly meticulous handwork.
The art of shrouding objects in countless thousands of infinitesimal glass beads isn’t a showy process, but the payoff is remarkable, as evinced in “1982,” this work by David Chatt now on display at Penland Gallery.
“My most recent work has less to do with the aesthetic qualities of glass and much to do with the obsessive nature of sewing,” notes Chatt. “I worked on 1982’for most of 2015. It was perhaps the most laborious piece I attempted in a career that has been laden with laborious pieces. … I cannot begin to tell you how many hours it took, but let’s just say that sewing tiny beads together is a terrible way to try to make a living!” (A grant from the North Carolina Arts Council lightened the load.)
Chatt acknowledges the vintage appeal of a dual-cassette, oversized boombox, especially for peers of the era. For him, though, the year he carried his music device everywhere — “it was more appendage than appliance” — was incredibly personal.
“As a gay kid growing up in a small town, I would say my early musical interests were guided mostly by church, my older brother, and KING, an unreliable Seattle AM radio station … and Broadway soundtracks. But the early 1980s was hugely important to me. I was making adult friends and figuring out that I did not invent homosexuality. I was discovering not just current music but also all the music that I had missed — Nina Simone and Patsy Cline competed with Talking Heads and Bronski Beat. I loved disco. I still do, [even though] people have tried to convince me that it’s wrong.
“I also love a good story,” he adds. “I don’t know exactly when Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car album hit the charts or Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time, but I couldn’t stop listening to them for a while. It’s impossible to think of this time without remembering how absolutely riveting Tina Turner’s Private Dancer album was.
“I’m sure I lost a bit of hearing from all the times I cranked up the volume on Tina. It was totally worth it.”
PERSONAL | Universal: Narrative Work in Craft runs at Penland Gallery through Sunday, July 15. Penland Gallery and Visitors Center, Conley Ridge Road, Penland. www.penland.org/gallery. 828-765-6211.