2014 Rakow Commission: Amber Cowan

Amber Cowan (2014)

Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct  Amber Cowan (American, b. 1981) United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2014 Found American pressed milk glass, flameworked, hot-worked, fused, and sandblasted 2014.4.75, 29th Rakow Commission

Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct
Amber Cowan (American, b. 1981)
United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2014
Found American pressed milk glass, flameworked, hot-worked, fused, and sandblasted
2014.4.75, 29th Rakow Commission

A pair of lambs, a lion, a double-humped camel, and a swan. All are hidden within the dense layers of flowers, patterned leaves, and floral elements that form this sculpture, which is made entirely from mass-produced vintage American pressed glass that Amber Cowan has transformed.

Amber Cowan on a pile of cullet in West Virginia (the beginning of the 29th Rakow Commission)The original pressed glass objects, including candy dishes, teacups, and plates made between the 1940s and the 1980s, are picked up by Cowan at thrift shops and flea markets or on eBay. They may include tableware in the “Colony Harvest” pattern produced by the Indiana Glass Company, or a flower vase from the Florists’ Transworld Delivery (FTD) service. Cowan breaks and then reheats the glass, flameworking and hot-sculpting it into tiny leaves, fruits, roses and abstract spirals, bits and spikes.

By transforming something old into something new, Cowan says that she “reincarnates” the glass, giving it a “second life.” The title—Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct—refers to the fact that the commercial milk glass (called “milk” for its opaque white color) that Cowan repurposes is no longer made. This common, inexpensive type of glass—originally traded for S&H Green Stamps—has been discarded and forgotten by contemporary culture, whose interests, styles, and fashions are vastly different from those of the era that the original glass represents.

In creating this commission, Cowan was inspired by 18th-century French objects in the Museum’s collection. She enjoys looking and relooking at the numerous lampworked glass figures and elaborate glass and shell decorations from this period. In them, she experiences what she describes as “hidden moments,” which she hopes people will discover in this sculpture.

Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct is the Museum's 29th Rakow Commission. The Rakow Commission is an annual award that was inaugurated in 1986 by Museum benefactors Dr. and Mrs. Leonard S. Rakow. Over the years, Rakow Commission recipients have ranged from emerging to established artists. Currently, the commission is awarded to professional artists, from the United States and abroad, whose work is not yet represented in the Museum's collection.

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