World glass aspirations: $1 million gift to Temple’s Tyler school enhances glass-art program

“Philadelphia is on track to become one of the world’s leading centers for the contemporary glass arts,” says Irvin Borowsky.

He has just given gifts worth more than $1 million to Temple University toward that goal. It’s the largest single donation to any university glass program.

The program at Temple’s Tyler School of Art already qualifies it as one of the country’s leading glass art facilities.

It includes a 10,000-square-foot center housing seven casting and blowing ovens (at 2150 degrees each), as well as studios for cold cutting and torch molding.

“We have one of the best studios in the country, in terms of equipment,” said associate professor Sharyn O’Mara, the head of Tyler’s glass program. “We’ve been focused on how to better impact students.”

Borowsky’s donation will allow O’Mara to bring in resident artists to teach and inspire students. The program is relatively small: Just four graduate students and 24 undergrads majoring in glass.

A glass resurgence

With the rise in the popularity of craft work, and as more young artists fold together distinct art disciplines, glass is seeing a resurgence.

The recent exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Craft Spoken Here,” featured several glass pieces, including an installation piece made of clusters of black glass threads.

“More students are interested in using glass in their practice — either artists who only work with glass, or sculptors who work with glass that they incorporate with other media,” said O’Mara. “We’re seeing a big increase in students interested in the medium.”

One of those students is Wes Valdez, a first-year grad student who was recently blowing glass cups at the newly renamed Irvin Borowsky Glass Studio.

“I think of it as mysterious materials,” said Valdez while twisting a wad of red-hot molten glass on the end of the blowpipe through a furnace glory hole. “We all have some knowledge of plaster, wood, metal; we understand it because we deal with it every day.

“But glass is a fickle material. It likes to break and fall apart. And even after you make something nice, it’s so fragile.”

Earlier this year, Borowsky gave $500,000 to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia to expand their glass facility. The philanthropist, who made a fortune publishing TV Guide, founded the Liberty Museum in Old City, which features glass art as its central component.

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