Writer James Yood called Sidney Hutter's ubiquitous vase form
Writer James Yood called Sidney Hutter's ubiquitous vase form "a vessel of ideas." Photos by Ralph Stewart

Hutter's glass tricks the eye, delights the spirit

By Pat Waring - August 31, 2006

To see his work, one would expect Sidney Hutter is a mischievous but gifted elf or maybe a wizard twirling in his pointed hat while brandishing a magic wand. In fact, I was assured by a staffer at the Martha's Vineyard Glassworks, where several of his pieces are on show, Sidney Hutter looks like a fairly regular guy.

Well, he may be regular, but his artistry is far from it. It is sheer magic. He creates lovely glass sculptures then causes them to disappear, self-destruct. He builds crystal clear vases (actually non-vases, for his vases don't hold anything, in fact, aren't even empty - but that's another story), and then they fill up with brilliant color if you tilt your head just so. But before you can say, "ahhh, lovely color!" it drains away again. Shazam! Now you see it, now you see something else again.

Clear from one angle, suffused with color from another, this vase embodies the artist's magic touch.
Clear from one angle, suffused with color from another, this vase embodies the artist's magic touch.

Sidney Hutter is a formidable name in the world of glass. His fascinating pieces are found in public collections across the United States and worldwide - from the Corning Museum of Glass to the White House, from Hong Kong to Melbourne. He is a respected innovator.

His work is sculpted, built, not blown as are the more familiar forms of glass art. Here is where he turns marvelous visual trickster; Mr. Hutter makes solid glass pieces that echo the shape of conventional blown vessels, specifically, vases. But his vessels hold no water, no flowers, but instead shifting layers or shards or whispers of color that continually shift, change, and even disappear depending on one's angle of viewing.

Along with color appearing, reappearing, and changing intensity, even hue, there is a sense of movement about the sculptures. Like a kaleidoscope design, patterns shift, expand, contract. Another fanciful effect: it's nearly impossible to tell where solid glass ends and empty space begins. Sometimes the eye gives up and only touch can tell.

Considered a pioneer in the studio glass movement, Mr. Hutter is a cold worker (not heating the glass as in conventional techniques) and uses thick commercial plate glass, cut to precise size and shape, to build his vessels. The layers are laminated, most often with the addition of super-saturated layers of color dye. Mr. Hutter takes his play on shapes steps further when he removes layers or segments from the vase form, often making it appear the layers are floating free with no connecting points. Yet the hefty glass pieces are transparent, the complex interiors of intersecting bars and layers fully visible.

Sidney Hutter's pieces take center stage in the small but airy upstairs gallery at the Glassworks. It is a perfect place to be on a rainy day, as work proceeds on the glass blowing floor below and warmth from the furnaces fills the air. Yet it's just as welcoming in sunny weather, the light shining in tall windows, bouncing off the glass, causing the colors to dance.

Although a look online offers delightful commentary on this intriguing art and artist, it's much more fun to see it for yourself. The show continues through Sept. 9.

Martha's Vineyard Glassworks, 683 State Road, West Tisbury. Daily 9 am to 6 pm. For more information, call 508-693-6026.