Artist explores human impact in Pittsburgh Glass Center exhibit
A resident of the Pacific Northwest, glass artist Kelly O’Dell grew up in Hawaii, the daughter of artistic parents.
“Dad was a glassblower when I was very young. He built a glass studio … at our little place in Hawaii. It was pretty ramshackle, but it worked,” says O’Dell, who lives in the Seattle, Wash., area.
Her parents had a gallery/store where he sold his work. “Mom pressed flowers and they both did stained glass,” O’Dell says.
She focuses her own creativity on the themes of existence, extinction, and preservation, and invites those who view her work to consider the human species’ impact in the wild.
“Critical Masse,” a wall-mounted piece comprising endangered species, including the tiger, elephant, panda, rhino and more, is the exhibit’s focal piece.
The method of display mimics game room hunting trophies, and is intended to draw attention to the species lost each year, often through the fault of human-caused habitat destruction and climate change, a news release states.
Among the animals represented is Sudan , the last Northern white rhino, who died in March.
That loss, in her lifetime, emphasizes species’ vulnerability and fragility, and contributes to the title of her show, she says.
Tapping into themes including extinction and endangerment, she says, has a lot to do with becoming a mother to son Wren, 7. “What will his world be like?” she asks.
A crystal clear change
O’Dell, 44, discovered glassblowing almost by accident when she entered college, she says. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree, focusing on glass, at the University of Hawaii.
A scholarship to the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state, where she also later instructed, helped make her career path clear. She was able to work with William Morris , the main glass artist there, as part of his team.
Watching “incredible artists” create from glass led to her interest in sculpting rhinos, gorillas and frogs, she says.
“I learned so much about these animals, and a lot of it was about their endangerment. I was really surprised. … It really hit me. I felt like I had to do something about it. I felt maybe responsible in a way,” O’Dell says.
She was a Glass Center artist in residence earlier this year, preparing some of the work she will soon exhibit.
“The Center provided me with a really lengthy amount of time in the shop. … I made most of the pieces in Pittsburgh,” O’Dell says.
Her technique involves using glass blowing fundamentals to create a base, then moving into a piece’s details.
“I draw them first and study the form first. … I think if I sketch a piece out I do a much better job sculpting,” O’Dell says.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are partnering with the Glass Center to offer complementary show programming, emphasizing responsibility and collectively making a difference, a release states.
On Oct. 6, from 1:30-3:30 p.m., the center will offer a free “Magical Monarchs” program with the Pittsburgh’s Zoo’s June Bernard. Participants can become “citizen scientists” by tagging and releasing a live monarch butterfly as part of the University of Kansas’ Monarch Watch tagging program.
From 3:30-4:40 p.m., visitors can make their own Monarch sun catcher in glass at the Glass Center for a fee of $25.
Also as part of the exhibit, JumpStart Films and Tom Kurlander are producing a short film to screen for visitors. It will showcase O’Dell at work during her residency, preparing for the show and exploring her life, passions and the elements behind her work and themes.
Despite the serious subject matter, O’Dell wants to impart a sense of hope with her exhibit.
“It’s really important to me to leave the show with a sense of hope. I don’t want to leave people depressed. The most challenging part of the show is exactly that. … If you don’t have a sense of hope, you won’t want to change anything,” she says.
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Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.