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by Mary Ann "Toots" Zynsky

Published onSep 21, 2020

Bowl, 1985
Mary Ann “Toots” Zynsky (American, b. 1951)
Glass threads (filet-de-verre)
Gift of Paul and Anastasia "Stacy" Polydoran. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2004.127

Mary Ann “Toots” Zynsky is a pioneer and icon in the glass world. Having studied across the world and with renowned glass artists such as Dale Chihuly, Zynsky has been introducing audiences to the craft of glass blowing and glass as a medium since the 1970s.

To make her vessels, Tina Oldknow writes, “Zynsky first layers thousands of multicolored glass threads onto a round heat-resistant fiberboard plate.  For her, this part of the process is like drawing or painting.  This mass of glass threads is then fused inside a kiln.  While hot, the fused thread disk is allowed to slowly slump into a series of consecutively deeper and rounder preheated bowl-shaped metal forms.  To make taller vessels, the piece is turned upside down and slumped over a cone-shaped mold.  Finally, Zynsky reaches into the kiln, wearing special heat-resistant gloves, and she squeezes the glass into a unique undulating form.”

Zynsky herself describes the process and challenge of working with glass: “Glass moves, it’s hot, and you have to be moving with it.  It breaks pretty quickly if you don’t do the right thing, which is one of the qualities about glass that I find strangely positive—the fact that it breaks.”

Zynsky reminds us that one of the most exciting things about working with mediums that are fluid, that move on their own accord, and that destabilize the practice of making, is that the outcome is never assumed. There is freedom in the risk and in the unknown of working with glass. To draw on the words of Haggestad, experimental art explores just what it means to ‘be’ in the world; the process is often tentative, with no shortage of risk, and requiring a certain willingness to wrestle with the unknown of the outcome.

-Dr. Ruxandra Looft


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