Frances and Michael Higgins: Honorable Efforts in Studio Glass

Curiosity killed the cat, but where human beings are concerned, the only thing a healthy curiosity can kill is ignorance.                                             Harry Lorayne

thehiggins_03For quite sometime now, a nagging question has been plaguing me in earnest about the subject of Higgins Glass. In a previous blog post I fessed up to my Higgins Glass facination and truly credit Michael and Frances Higgins for sparking my own soiree into the fused glass realm. The burning question for me has been, where do the Higginses fit into the conversation about Studio Glass? Well…You know what they say curiousity did to the cat!

This question has sent me off on an odyssey of discovery into texts that museum curators and folks with PhD’s in art history have written to answer my seemingly simple/innocent question.

I first posed the question to Henry Halem who was kind enough to entertain my humble question when I had the fortuitous chance to meet him briefly at SOFA Chicago last year. His response was that they “made ash trays” and “were not all that involved with GAS (Glass Art Society) from what he could recall.” Not entirely satisfied with that response, I left SOFA continuing to ruminate on the subject.

If the reader is unfamiliar with Higgins Glass then I highly recommend an excellent article by Donald-Brian Johnson that I just came across which includes a precious glimpse at some lovely images taken by Leslie Pina that showcase the incredible artisry (and NO, they are NOT all ash trays *wink @ Henry*) of Frances Higgins, one of my most beloved glass heroines, please visit this website:

http://www.antiquesandauctionnews.net/Article+Display/The+Artistry+Of+Frances+Higgins/

So yes,  I have clearly and unabashedly approached my investigation from an utterly biased viewpoint. I do so adore Frances! Little did I realize just how complicated my question was going to be to answer.

First you must define “Studio Glass” and not everyone agrees on that definition. Just pay a quick little visit to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Studio_glass and scroll down to the discussion on Studio Glass as it unfolds. Not the greatest source of credible information, but it illustrates my point that there is much debate and lack of agreement taking place about this very subject. Some have adopted an “Americentric” or exclusionary (blown glass only) way of looking at Studio Glass while others see a greater continuum, a bigger picture that includes folks like the Higginses as well as non-Americans in the conversation about Studio Glass.

I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed “American Studio Glass 1960 – 1990” by Martha Drexler Lynn ” (Hudson Hills Press, 168 pages, $40) published in 2004, where, in the context of her discussion in the book, she opens up the definition of Studio Glass to include “work made by any practitioner working outside the factory and using any technique, hot, warm or cold.” p. 14.  Consequentally, that would include folks like the Higginses, Edris Eckhardt, Heaton, and others in the overall conversation about Studio Glass. Quite a refreshing perspective lending credit to the fact that there were independent glass artists already working with and exploring glass before the infamous Toledo Workshops were held (which the Higginses attended BTW) in 1962. These trail-blazers were experimenting outside of industry in what I now understand is called the “proto-studio” setting, with limited resources and without any formal instruction or training available to them at the time. They were quite ahead of their time and perhaps are deserving of a shards (heehee) more credit that they have gotten along the way.

None of this is to take away from the very significant contribution Harvey Littleton made to the American Studio Glass Movement. Clearly he took things to a whole other level…a subject worthy of it’s own blog post. Indeed my hat is off to him!  However, I can’t help but notice how the lives of Frances, Michael and Mr. Littleton were intimately woven together. According to one of their chosen successors, Jonanthan Wimmer,  ‘Harvey would sleep on their couch when he would visit’ as the history of Studio Glass in America unfolded. Drexler’s more inclusive definition of “Studio Glass” just sits better with this Higgins fan.

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For further exploration on this subject:

  • Anyone with a remote interest in fused glass art or the pioneering, mid-century modern fused glass efforts of Frances and Michael Higgins will be charmed to learn about a very special DVD that was made in 1996 as they approached their final dance with glass.

The informative DVD titled: Higgins Glass: A visit with Frances and Michael Higgins, is something I became aware of after meeting Ed & Marth Biggar when I took a class on Bronze clay at the Bead & Button Show in Milwaukee. The DVD is exclusively available from Ed and Martha Biggar’s website here—> www.edandmarthabiggar.com/higgins.html.

Taken from the inside of the cover:

Frances and Michael Higgins worked for over 50 years in the fused glass field, renewing 20th century interest in this centuries-old medium. Insights into their history, their styles and techniques, and their lives together make this DVD a facinating view into their Riverside, Illinois studio; one that you will want to watch again and again. Perfect for artisans, collectors, or both, you’ll learn more about the Higgins and their work with each viewing.

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One Response to Frances and Michael Higgins: Honorable Efforts in Studio Glass

  1. Nice research job! I love your Higgins loyalty, and the expansion of knowledge and information.
    Thorough and well done.

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