Art Glass - Robert Willson
Date Posted : 2012-06-22
Group : Collectibles By Owner
Robert Willson (1912-2000) was one of the most complex and contradictory American artists of the past century. Among the first American sculptors to use solid glass in a small factory setting, he was at once regional and international, steeped in pre-Columbian art as well as Texas folklore. Educated in the Southwest and Mexico, he discovered the glass studios of Murano, Italy, at the age of fourty-four and never looked back. Robert Willson fell in love with Venice and spent the next thirty-seven summers there making solid glass sculptures.
Long before other American glass artists found their way to the island of Murano in the Venice lagoon in the 1960's, Willson was already a respected, steady presence. By the time of his death at eighty-eight in San Antonio, he had been repeatedly recognized by art museums through exhibitions and acquisitions, recieved two prestigious Italian museum retrospectives, participated (as an Italian) in several Venice Biennale exhibitions and been feted in a palazzo or two. Moving far beyond the humble stone house on a Choctaw Indian reservation of his childhood, Robert Willson lived multiple lives; young man in Mexico, family man and academic in Arkansas and Florida, sophisticated international artist in Venice, secret author and diarist in San Antonio, Venice and Miami.
As a young man of twenty-three, Willson was swept up in the Mexican Revolution, briefly painted with Diego Rivera, and was befreinded by Frida Kahlo, Jos Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, many of whom he captured in photographs. Part of Mexican art history, too, Willson was among the first U.S.-born artists in the 1930s to adapt Mayan and Mexican folk art imagery. His art continually blended ancient Mayan imagery with ancient Venetian glassmaking techniques.
Willson was a diarist, correspondent, art magazine contributor, museum catalogue author, and loquacious television interview subject. His observations included prescient comments, not only about the future of glass in American art and architecture, but also about major and minor figures of Mexican and Italian art, the Mexican muralists of his youth, and three generations of Murano glass masters--Barbini, Zuffi, Guarnieri, Rosin, Signoretto, Raffaeli--all of whom he hired to execute his increasingly massive forms. Willson's writings form an important international archive, part of the tradition of American artists who traveled abroad for instruction, exhibitions, acceptance, and recognition.
Robert Willson's story is a tale of the clash between American pragmatism and European sophistication, the reconciliation of that conflict and a mutual triumph. Illustrated with examples form numerous American and Italian art collections, this site should be of interest to artists, collectors, glass enthusiasts, curators and art critics.