Glass Art Society holds its annual conference in the Windy City


Every property of glass as an art medium—its translucence, its luminosity, its malleability, its ability to reflect, refract and distort—will be on full display in Chicago this week as the Glass Art Society holds its annual conference in the Windy City for the first time.

The 52-year-old Seattle-based group, which claims 2,100 members from 54 countries (including artists, collectors, curators and dealers), kicks off three days of workshops, seminars, demonstrations, exhibits and other events on Thursday through Saturday, March 20-22, at the Palmer House Hilton and other venues. About 1,200 people are scheduled to attend the conference, whose on-site registration fees range from $250 (for full-time students) to $395, plus membership fees of $40-$70.

Of particular interest to non-members of the Glass Art Society is a free pre-conference event on Wednesday, March 19, featuring glass-sculpting demonstrations, studio tours, exhibitions and other events at various conference venues (including Ignite Glass Studios and West Supply, both in the West Loop). “It will be a day to introduce Chicagoans to glass art,” says Glass Art Society executive director Pamela Koss.

That evening, a pre-conference fundraising event at Ignite ($200-$225) will feature special hors d’oeuvres and drinks by Chef Thai Dang and Danielle Pizzutillo of Embeya and a dinner created by Chef Matthias Merges of Yusho, Billy Sunday and A10.

The conference will also offer live and silent auctions of glass art pieces by artists from around the world, most with a value of between $800 and $12,000. One piece will be a rare collaboration between leading glass artists in honor of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Dan Dailey. The ceremony honoring Dailey, at the Palmer House on Thursday, will also feature a keynote address by Chicago artist Theaster Gates.

Several of the conference seminars will focus on entrepreneurship. “If you’re working as a glass artist, you are your own business—or, rather, your skills are your business,” Koss explains. “That’s part of the draw of being a glass artist: the fact that you are working on your own. In 2012, we celebrated 50 years of American studio glass, a movement started by people breaking out of corporate glass jobs, building their own studios in their garages and so on. The entrepreneurial aspect has always been important to this very independent group of artists, which is why we emphasize it in our conferences: business skills, marketing, everything you need to make sure you can sustain yourself in that way. The idea is to give people more operational tools to help them stay artists in uncertain economic times.”

Why Chicago, and why now? “Chicago was always a perfect fit for us with its design, art, food—a popular city for artists to come to—but what we didn’t really have for our conference was enough infrastructure, especially for our lecture-demonstrations,” Koss says. “We needed a pretty large glass studio with enough space for our attendees to view the demonstrations. Now we have that at Ignite, which is fantastic.”

Ignite, a complex with a glass-art gallery, a 3,000-square-foot glassblowing studio and a 6,000-square-foot event space at 401 N. Armour, opened in November 2012, just before that year’s edition of SOFA Chicago, the annual sculpture, objects, functional art and design show at Navy Pier. Among the SOFA attendees that year were Koss and other members of the Glass Art Society, which led to a partnership that ultimately brought the GAS conference to Chicago.

“Many of the artists coming into Chicago for SOFA, domestically and internationally, were glass artists, so it seemed like a natural for us to have a reception for them that year,” recalls Trish Tullman, who co-owns Ignite with her husband, Glen. (Glen’s brother, Howard Tullman, is a noted Chicago art collector.) “Pam was there, and afterwards the Glass Art Society approached us about them coming to Chicago in 2014. It’s all worked out according to plan, which is great.”

For more information about Ignite Glass Studios, visit To learn more about the Glass Art Society and its Chicago conference, visit


Kevin Nance is a Chicago-based freelance writer and photographer. Twitter: @KevinNance1