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In Memoriam:

The Littleton Legacy





A giant in the field of glass, Harvey K. Littleton, died December 13, 2013, in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, at the age of 91.

Harvey was born in Corning, New York, on June 14, 1922, to Dr. and Mrs. Jesse Littleton. Dr. Littleton was director of research at Corning Glass Works and was responsible for the development of Pyrex. Harvey briefly studied physics at the University of Michigan, but his interest in art led him to finish a degree in industrial design in 1947. In 1949 he enrolled as a graduate student in ceramics at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

After finishing his degree, Harvey began teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1951. In 1957 he was awarded a research grant which allowed him to visit Europe to study pottery. During his travels, he encountered several small glass blowing studios. At that time no small, artistic glass studios existed in the United States; manufacturing was limited to scientific and utilitarian factory production. Harvey’s epiphany was to utilize modern industrial materials to create the first small glassblowing workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He then developed an outstanding course curriculum which spawned a legion of professional glass artists and artisans. Harvey’s background and passion for glass were the perfect combination at just the right time in history to provide a facility and academic framework to foster creativity in a medium which had never been accessible to art students before. His myriad accomplishments are well documented in books and videos. However, I would like to share some personal memories and thoughts about this remarkable man.

On January 11th, 2014, I was invited to a celebration to honor both Harvey and his lovely wife Bess. It was a wonderful tribute hosted by the Littleton children. The celebration was in the form of a testimonial dinner at which guests, care givers, and family members were encouraged to share anecdotes and stories with the Littleton family. Few of the attendees did I recognize because my relationship with Harvey and Bess was forged during my residency as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison between 1975 and 1977. The attendees, other than family, were mainly friends and local artisans whose acquaintance was made in the last 35 years during Harvey’s residency in North Carolina. Their recollections and comments were interesting, entertaining, and often humorous. It was great to hear those heartfelt testimonies and realize Harvey’s legacy extended far beyond his teaching days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and for more than his contributions to the field of glass.

Harvey passed his passion onto his children. Carol Littleton continues to take care of Harvey’s estate and print inventory; Maureen is a gallery owner specializing in glass in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.; Thomas is the owner of Spruce Pine Batch Company, which produces glass batch; John and his wife Kate carry on the studio tradition as professional glass artists. Their productive careers in glass art related fields speak volumes of Harvey’s ability to influence others and instill his passion for glass.

From my point of view, one aspect of Harvey that has received too little attention was his strength as an educator. Harvey was more than a teacher. He was the definition of a university professor. He saw the big picture in life and how to succeed in a chosen field of endeavor. He ensured his students’ success by stressing the importance of public relations, accounting, documentation, inventory, and the sacred relationship which exists between artist, gallery, and collector. He demonstrated a strong work ethic and stressed honesty and integrity. He taught the fundamentals of business while preaching creativity and artistic exploration.

Harvey was the seminal figure in the contemporary art glass movement. He broadcast the seeds of knowledge to his students who in turn harvested the fruit of an entire art movement. I remain in his debt and will always consider him my mentor.

© 2001-2015 Christopher Ries