The ethereal quality of Toots Zynsky’s 2005 work, Pennellata, is characteristic of the extraordinary glass vessels that have placed her among the leading practitioners of contemporary studio glass. Its layered colours are animated by reflected and refracted light, each linear element inflecting the visual quality of the next as the viewer’s gaze moves from its outer to its inner surfaces. Their shaded, drawing-like quality is the result of a complex and demanding process of construction by which two layers of glass threads, in about sixty colours, are assembled flat before being fused and formed into a circular sheet of glass. This sheet is then mould-slumped in the kiln before final manipulation into the undulating, organic form that characterises all of Zynsky’s work.
Mary Ann (Toots) Zynsky was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1951, and gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1973. After moving to New York in 1980, she founded and developed the second New York Experimental Glass Workshop (now known as Urban Glass), where she developed technical processes for the production of the fine glass threads, or ‘canes’, used as a key element in the design of her glass works. Zynsky describes the technique of constructing open vessel forms works entirely composed of these fused and thermo-formed glass elements as ‘filet de verre’. From 1983 to 1999, she worked from a studio base in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, immersing herself in the traditions of European glass, drawing inspiration and technical knowledge from Venetian glass in particular. An interest in music also took her to West Africa, where she participated in a recording project of West Ghanaian traditional music, an experience that exposed her to the vibrant colours and patterns of the region’s traditional art and design, influences that were interpreted in the complex colour orchestrations of her later work.
Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra