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Sparkling anticipation

A partial gift of art glass glows with the promise of beauty to come when a new Tampa Museum of Art is built.

Published August 31, 2003

Gambo, blown glass by Dante Marioni

TAMPA - The Tampa Museum of Art may be lagging in building a new facility, but it's getting more to fill it when it is completed. The museum recently received the first installment of a major studio glass collection promised by Sarasota collectors Richard and Barbara Basch, seven pieces from a group that totals about 180, said Elaine Gustafson, the museum's curator of contemporary art.

"This is a partial gift," said Elaine Gustafson. The arrival of the rest of the collection "will happen when we have the new glass gallery."

That gallery will be part of a 124,000-square-foot museum designed by internationally known architect Rafael Vinoly on the site of the aging facility on downtown Ashley Street. Construction was to have been under way by now, but Mayor Pam Iorio has postponed groundbreaking until all the funds are in hand. The museum has raised about $17-million toward matching the $30-million promised by the city, which owns the museum. Construction costs are estimated at about $42-million; the balance is for furnishings and an endowment. Museum officials are being tight-lipped about fundraising but say they are confident they can raise the money sooner rather than later.

Through several modifications, a glass gallery has always been part of the design. Its inclusion is an example of the fine arts world's new respect for studio glass as art rather than mere craft, much as photography began acquiring that status 50 years ago.

Studio glass can be seen as a relatively new art form, or really a return to a very old one. For centuries, glass was blown and shaped in small artisanal workshops, each piece worked individually. In the 19th century, with the development of huge furnaces and foundries capable of churning out hundreds of identical, mostly functional, objects, glass became available to more than the elite.

Beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the studio glass movement resurrected the old techniques and, with new materials and technology, took glass into a new generation of innovation. Dale Chihuly, the Seattle-based artist who established the now-famous Pilchuck Glass School, is credited with placing glass on the cultural map. His manipulations of the liquid silica and his astonishing sculptural constructions and installations, which use hundreds of fragile individual pieces, rise into the air or blanket long, horizontal platforms.

Chihuly, who will have a one-man show at St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts in January, is represented in the Basches' collection, as are other important names in the Studio Glass Movement. The museum has taken possession of works by Sonja Blomdahl, Dante Marioni, Steve Maslach, Danny Perkins, Richard Royal and Lino Tagliapietra.

The promised gift is important to the Tampa Museum, which does not have a particularly impressive permanent collection. Instead, it has relied on traveling shows to supplement its holdings in antiquities and contemporary art, mostly photography and prints.

One of the major motivators for building a new museum was to make room for a more substantial permanent collection. Gustafson and other museum officials have said over the years that they believe more gifts will come their way once they have that space.

"After all," Gustafson said, "collectors are reluctant to give their art to a museum if they know it will simply sit in storage."

- Lennie Bennett can be reached at

[Last modified August 28, 2003, 09:23:42]

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