Biographical / Historical
Marvin Bentley Lipofsky was born in Elgin, Illinois in 1938, and grew up in the Chicago suburb of Barrington. Lipofsky was a contemporary glass artist, and a trailblazer in the American studio glass movement. He traveled widely throughout his career, visiting glass factories and workshops all over the world, and his impact on contemporary glass art was also substantial internationally.
Lipofsky attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, graduating with a degree in Industrial Design in 1962. However, his first love was sculpture, and he pursued a Master’s degree in fine art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There he studied with Harvey Littleton, a seminal figure in the studio art glass movement. Lipofsky first worked in clay and metal, then ceramics, beginning to experiment with glassblowing upon Littleton’s encouragement. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1964, Lipofsky was invited to join the decorative arts department at the University of California, Berkeley to teach, and to develop a glassblowing program. In 1967 he took a part time teaching position at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (now the California College of the Arts), and by 1972 was teaching there full time. Also in 1967, Lipofsky founded and organized the Great California Glass Symposium which met annually at first, then developed to five or more workshops a year for the next 20 years. There were 105 workshops in all. Additionally, he was instrumental in founding the Glass Art Society, along with the Glass Art Society Journal in the 1970s. Throughout his career Lipofsky taught workshops, and was a visiting artist at 30 glass schools throughout the world, such as the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Israel; the Crystalex-Hantich glass factory in Novy Bor, Czech Republic; and the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, Washington.
In the 1940s and 1950s a few ceramicists began casting glass, but prior to 1962, studio artists were able to work only in industrial settings, limiting them in their ability to experiment with glass. The American studio art glass movement arose from research scientist Dominick Labino’s successful design of a small furnace hot enough to melt glass that could be housed in a studio space. Artists could now experiment with glass in independent studios. Glasswork, however, requires technical knowledge alongside artistry, and because of this glass artists early in the movement found themselves limited in their endeavors.
When Lipofsky began teaching glass techniques in Berkeley in 1964, the surrounding social and political milieu of the West Coast influenced the growth of the movement, as well as the development of his art and aesthetic. In an interview, Lipofsky described California in that decade as “free and open,” pointing to the rise of student activism and the free speech movement. This encouraged collaboration and knowledge-sharing between artists, creating a distinctive atmosphere and culture in the studio glass movement.
Another characteristic of the studio glass movement was experimentation in nontraditional methods and materials, and Lipofsky was known for blending unusual materials into his glass objects, even flocking some of his pieces. He often textured surfaces through techniques such as acid-washing, cutting, grinding, copper-plating and sandblasting.
Lipofsky’s California Loop Series (1969) is an early example of how he understood and exploited the natural properties of glass. The “Loop” series was sculptural, making use of negative space, and incorporating materials such as flotation foam, paint, rayon flocking and epoxy. Of “Loops,” Lipofsky says the result is… “exactly what the glass would do if you had a lump of glass on the end of a pipe, and it was warm and you swung it, or spun it; it would tend to elongate, and if you were careful, you could manipulate that elongation into curves and sensual angles, and so forth, and that’s really what was inspirational in trying to do that. All the things I’ve done with glass is what glass does naturally.”
Lipofsky’s works appear in more than 100 collections worldwide, including the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; the National Museum of Glass, Leerdam, Holland; the Museum Bellerive, Zurich, Switzerland; The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY: the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan; and the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH.
Lipofsky’s work was displayed in both domestic and international exhibitions throughout his career. Selected solo exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (1969), New York, NY; Gallery Maronie (1978), Kyoto, Japan; Habatat Galleries (1985), Lathrup Village, MI; Leo Kaplan Modern (1991), New York, NY; the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA; and the Fresno Art Museum (2005), Fresno, CA.
The Glass Art Society honored Lipofsky with a Lifetime Achievement award in 2009. He was also the recipient of numerous national and international awards over the course of his career.
Married and divorced twice, Lipofsky had a daughter and two grandchildren. He died in Berkeley, CA in January 2016.
Grimes, W. (2016, January). Marvin Lipofsky, Ceramist Who Elevated Blown Glass to Fine Art, Dies at 77. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/design/marvin-lipofsky-ceramist-who-elevated-blown-glass-to-fine-art-dies-at-77.html?_r=0
Lipofsky, M. Resumé. Retrieved from http://www.marvinlipofsky.com/resume.html
Oldknow, T. (2007, July). Meet the Artist: Marvin Lipofsky. Retrieved from http://www.cmog.org/transcript/meet-artist-marvin-lipofsky
Turner, B. (2009). Glass Art Society Oral History, Marvin Lipofsky. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/153842550