The Littleton Legacy
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.
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
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.