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UrbanGlass reopens as a ‘treehouse’

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This forest is more at risk of breaking than burning.

For her latest exhibition at UrbanGlass, artist Katherine Gray collected thousands of drinking glasses to recreate the trees that grow in abundance throughout Brooklyn including the Norwegian maple, the London plane, and the mulberry. Titled “A Tree Grows” after the iconic novel by Betty Smith, the exhibition opens in conjunction with the grand unveiling of the new UrbanGlass arts center.

UrbanGlass, the first and largest artists glass studio in the United States and the only glass-blowing facility in the New York metropolitan area was temporarily relocated to Gowanus for renovations earlier this year. The newly opened, three-story space that also houses Bric Arts in the historic Strand Theater building features more than three basketball courts worth of state-of-the-art work space for the glass hub and puts the crushed-sand sculptors at sidewalk level.

“One of the incredible parts of our renovation project has been the establishment of a space for the organization at street level,” Executive Director Cybele Maylone said.

The new Agnes Varis Art Center will present changing exhibitions of glass art and design and will also feature a store stocked with artwork from resident glass-manipulators, according to Maylone.

“A Tree Grows” is the inaugural show at the center and is meant to symbolize the life cycle of glass, the artist says. In making it, Gray says she pondered the process of creating glass, which once involved burning trees to generate heat. Therefore, like ashes to ashes, the glass trees practically come from trees.

The artwork also pays homage to UrbanGlass’s supportive community.

The artist sent out a public request for drinking glasses two months prior to the opening of the exhibition. Friends and strangers mailed her glasses of all shapes and sizes from countries as far away as Australia. Some donations were unlabeled while others included short, encouraging notes.

“People were generally excited about getting involved,” she said. “I was a little scared and a little thrilled at the same time, because I am used to fabricating most everything myself and making all aesthetic decisions.”

Gray asked for drinking glasses as opposed to other glassware because she fancied the idea of using an overlooked object.

“They are so ubiquitous that people don’t really ‘see’ them,” Gray said. “It’s kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees.”

Under Gray’s deft fingers, the everyday vessels have been transformed into a thing of wonder. Brooklyn’s only glass forest will be on view through January 4, 2014.

“A Tree Grows” at Agnes Varis Art Center, UrbanGlass [647 Fulton Street, (718) 625-3685, info@urbanglass.org]. Oct. 3–Jan. 4, 2014.

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