Remembering: Harvey K. Littleton

Remembering: Harvey K. Littleton

It is with great sadness that we announce that Harvey K. Littleton died on December 13 at his home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Largely considered the “father” of the American Studio Glass Movement, Littleton was 91.

Born the son of a Corning Glass Works Ph.D. physicist, Littleton grew up in the world of glassmaking. In spite of this, he began his career in ceramics, as he wanted to be a studio artist and at the time glassmaking took place in large scale industrial environments. After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in design from the University of Michigan in 1947 and his Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1950, Littleton went on to become a nationally recognized instructor of ceramics at the University of Wisconsin.

In 1962, Littleton left the world of ceramics to begin a career in glassmaking. Together with Dominick Labino, who at the time was the director of research for Johns-Manville Glass Fibers Division, they designed a technique which revolutionized the medium – taking it out of factory production and into the studio. Littleton and Labino’s secret was a small furnace, which Littleton developed, and a low temperature melting-point glass, which Labino supplied.

On of the earliest public demonstrations of this ground-breaking studio glass technique took place during the World Congress of Craftsmen at Columbia University in 1964.

As interest in studio glass flourished, Littleton established the first hot glass program in the United States at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He also toured the Midwest and northeastern states promoting the idea of glass as a course of study in university art departments. Several of Harvey Littleton's students also went on to disseminate the study of glass art throughout the U.S., including Marvin Lipofsky, who started a glass program at the University of California at Berkeley, and Dale Chihuly, who developed the glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design and later was a founder of Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington.

Littleton retired from teaching in 1976 to focus on his own art. During this time, he expanded his range from creating functional vessels to experimenting with more abstract figurative forms. His sculptural works, created by combining layers of color with a brilliant colorless glass, would become his most well-known. In 1983 Littleton the American Craft Council awarded him a Gold Medal for Consummate Craftsmanship.

Littleton was married to Bess Tamura Littleton in 1947. She died on October 8, 2009. The couple had four children: Carol L. Shay, Thomas Littleton, Maurine Littleton, and John Littleton. All work in the field of glass art. Carol L. Shay is the curator at Littleton Studios; Tom Littleton owns and manages Spruce Pine Batch Company, which supplies batch (the dry ingredients of which glass is made) to artists and art departments around the U.S.; Maurine Littleton is the owner and director of Maurine Littleton Gallery, which specializes in glass art, in Washington, DC. With his wife and collaborative partner, Kate Vogel, John Littleton is a glass artist in Bakersville, NC.

Littleton's work can be found in the collection of the High Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in England, amongst others.

In lieu of flowers, the Littleton family has asked that donations be made to the Hospice and Palliative Care Center of Mitchell County that has provided invaluable support in the care for Harvey and/or to the Penland School of Crafts “Harvey and Bess Littleton Scholarship Fund” that provides one full scholarship for a two-week summer session in hot glass.

For more information on the founding of the studio glass movement, check out Glass' Big Bang by from our Feb/.Mar. 2012 issue of American Craft. For images of Harvey Littleton demonstrating glassblowing techniques, along with samples of his work, please check out the ACC Library Digital Collections.