by Beth Neville
Among contemporary young artists, it is unusual to find someone in full control of her medium, with the emotional maturity and imagination to produce art that is both decorative and deeply emotional. This is even more unusual in the burgeoning field of American crafts over the past 50 years. Amber Cowan is such an artist. Her art, crafted glass, goes beyond the inherent decorative beauty of translucent and opalescent glass to form sculptures with significant symbolic content. A solo show of her work, “Re/Collection,” is on display at Fuller Craft Museum through October 8.
“Hands and Handkerchiefs,” an assemblage of four pairs of green-glass hands originally made to display fashionable rings, immediately stands out. Cowan curved the fingers, using hot sculpting, so that they hold wires from which melted white cake plates dangle downward. It looks simple, but it lets us think of the multiple symbol systems these 12 objects evoke.
I immediately thought of young women’s silk white panties, bordered with handmade lace and (without reading the title) of lace trimmed linen handkerchiefs. These intimate feminine garments dangle on a wire wash line, soiled and being cleansed by the sun. How were they “soiled?” Why are they being helplessly suspended looking like objects controlled by a puppeteer? Were the handkerchiefs used to dry copious tears after some sad event? Whose hands are these — the artist’s, or some controlling male or female companion? The artwork prompts a sense of virginal violation.