One of the best known and most productive artists associated with the early years of the studio glass movement is Dominick Labino (b. 1910, d. 1987). In 1965 Labino took an early retirement from his position as vice president and director of research at the Johns-Manville Fiber Glass Corporation of Toledo, OH to devote himself full-time to the resurgent art and craft of glassblowing. The studio he built on his farm in Grand Rapids, OH, just south of Toledo, had four furnaces and an impressive array of hot glassworking tools, finishing tools, annealing ovens and machine-shop equipment. Labino worked there alone, with office help from his wife Libby. He followed a rigorous, self-imposed schedule, developing new furnace designs and color formulae, perfecting his glassblowing skills and producing up to fifty pieces a week for a "second career" that extended into the mid 1980s.
Labino's history is closely associated with that of another pioneer in the studio glass movement, Harvey Littleton. A native of Corning, NY, where his father was the director of research for the Corning Glass Works, Littleton taught ceramics at the Toledo Museum of Art for two years before accepting a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin in 1951. Throughout the 1950s he became increasingly interested in exploring the craft possibilities of glassblowing. According to Susanne K. Frantz, author of Contemporary Glass (Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass, 1989, p. 49), Littleton participated in a landmark panel discussion on glassblowing at the Fourth National Conference of the American Craftsmen's Council in 1961. Dominick Labino was not part of the craft scene at that time and was not in attendence, but he had met Littleton in Toledo ten years earlier and their acquaintance would soon be renewed.
In March of 1962 at the invitation of his old boss Otto Wittmann, director of the Toledo Museum of Art, Harvey Littleton returned to Toledo to hold the first of several famous glassblowing workshops. Unfortunately, his initial batch would not melt and his stoneware furnace liner broke. Fortunately, Labino was on hand to lend assistance and encouragement. Labino suggested modifications to the furnace design and provided a supply of the #475 glass marbles used by his company. These marbles melted at a relatively low temperature and attained a consistency suitable for glassblowing. Today the Toledo workshops are recognized as watershed events in the emergence of the so-called the "studio glass movement." Littleton established a glassblowing studio at the University of Wisconsin in 1964 and others soon followed in university and college art departments across the country.
Dominick Labino, meanwhile, was captivated by his glassblowing experience at the 1962 workshops and established his own studio in 1963. Decades of work in the glass industry served him well in this new endeavor. Labino held more than fifty U.S. patents, three of which, for glass fiber production, were utilized by the Apollo space program. Labino was particularly fascinated with color chemistry and with the technical aspects of melting and manipulating glass. Frantz notes in Contemporary Glass that unlike Littleton, who focused on artistic end results and famously stated that "technique is cheap," Dominick Labino represented an opposing camp in the glassworking community. Labino celebrated technical proficiency and a thorough understanding of glass composition, manipulation and furnace operation.
In 1968 Labino wrote Visual Art in Glass (Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Co. Publishers), which surveys the world history of glass. It includes the chapter "The Artist and Glass," and illustrates a number of Labino's pieces. The cover illustation shows a "free hand-blown sphere of topaz glass with Ariel design, controled bubble pattern between the layers, worked while hot" (see illustration to left). This piece was made by Labino in 1967. It relates closely to the blue example from the NBMOG collection, also shown to the left, which features an Ariel design in copper blue glass. Of this technique Labino writes that "a very interesting effect is achieved when a controlled-bubble pattern is layered between two walls of clear glass" (p. 113).
Labino believed that by producing glass from raw ingredients he achieved greater quality control and a wider range of effects than artists who were content to remelt commercially available glass. In his book he writes "I have a furnace-workshop on my farm where I blow glass and experiment with glass composition. I am deeply interested in the almost unlimited possibilities of color in glass, and so my concentration is focused on producing exotic color effects.... One very exciting and satisfying color achievement is a copper-ruby.... Silver in a composition also produces exciting color effects depending on the furnace atmosphere and thermal conditions. The blown spherical vase [shown below] is a silver glass composition with swirls of blue and pale opalescent green in reflected light, and a rosy amber in transmitted light."
Dominick Labino Grand Rapids, OH, 1968
H: 6 1/4"
NBMOG Collection Gift: Alice Wilson Ex. Coll. Kenneth M. Wilson
Dominick Labino Grand Rapids, OH, 1964
H: 8 7/8"
NBMOG Collection Museum Purchase Ex. Coll. Michael & Frances Higgins
Dominick Labino Grand Rapids, OH, 1970
NBMOG Collection Museum Purchase Ex. Coll. Helen Barger
Visual Art in Glass by Dominick Labino NBMOG Rockwell Library Acc. L2003.313 Gift: Mrs. Warren P. Tingley
The same effect can be seen in the "silver glass" vase recently donated to NBMOG by the family of the late Kenneth Wilson. In reflected light the vase shows beautiful opal blues, greens and purples (see above left). When light shines through the glass from behind, however, the color changes completely to a transparent red-amber (see below). This property is described as "dichroic" and can be seen most famously in the celebrated Lycurgus Cup, a carved Roman glass vessel in the collection of the British Museum, c. 4th century AD. It appears opaque green in reflected light and translucent ruby in transmitted light.
Silver glass vase made by Labino in 1965 and illustrated by him on p. 111 of Visual Art in Glass.
Dichroic character of the Labino vase shown top left, a recent gift to NBMOG from the family of the late Kenneth Wilson.
The bottle-shaped Labino vase shown to the left, although similar in its opal-green color to greens appearing in the Wilson vase, is not dichroic. No silver was used in the formulation of the glass, and in transmitted light the bottle-shaped vase does not turn red. This vase is exciting for other reasons. It is dated 1964, which means it was made by Labino just two years after the historic Toledo workshops and a year before he retired from Johns-Manville. The vase also is signifacant for its history of ownership. It was purchased by NBMOG at the estate sale of the late Frances Higgins, a glassmaking contemporary of Labino who is recognized for her own important contributions to studio glassmaking.
NBMOG has made a special effort to develop its collection of artists who helped shape the early years of the studio glass movement. Dominick Labino certainly falls into this category. Frantz notes of him in summation that "his reputation for high standards and feisty independence sometimes set him apart from his younger colleagues in studio glass. However, through his personal philosophies, technical expertise, and inventions he advanced the craft of studio glass immeasurably."
How appropriate that our latest example of Labino's work should come to us from the personal collection of Kenneth Wilson. As a young curator from the Corning Museum of Glass, Wilson headed the 1961 panel discussion in Seattle where the possibilities of glassblowing were considered with such enthusiasm. From there it was a short step to the Toledo workshops of 1962.
Dominick Labino Photo from Visual Art in Glass (1968), back cover
Diamond-scratched signature and date appearing on the underside of the vase illustrated below.