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James Mongrain and the Stroemple Collection

Glass exhibit blows us away

James Mongrain with the Arcobaleno Series, 2016, blown and hot-sculpted glass, the George R. Stroemple Collection. Photo courtesy Museum of Glass

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I was overwhelmed upon stepping into the James Mongrain and Stroemple Collection at the Museum of Glass. It was like stepping into some decadent over-decorated castle - a long shelf running the length of one wall stuffed to overflowing with delicate and elaborately decorated Venetian glass vessels, and on tables throughout the gallery, larger versions of similar glass vessels. My first impression was that I was looking at ostentatious baubles of the super-rich, which for me is an instant turnoff. But upon closer inspection, I was impressed with the color and the fluid design and intricacy of these pieces, while still being overwhelmed, even increasingly so, with the technical skill involved in making them.

The exhibition titled "Ispirazione: James Mongrain in The George R. Stroemple Collection" is the result of a four-year collaboration between Mongrain and Stroemple. Stroemple is a collector of 19th century Venetian glass. Mongrain is a Pacific Northwest glass artist who has been inspired by works in Stroemple's collection, often creating vessels inspired by specific pieces from the collection. His work, the larger pieces in the exhibition, is displayed on tables in the center of the gallery, while the smaller pieces from the Stroemple collection are arrayed on the shelf against the wall. Mongrain's pieces are grouped into four "historic replica" series: the Adriatico, Atlantis, Poseidon and Arcobaleno.

Adriatico is a municipality on the coast of the Adriatic sea; Atlantis, the mythological undersea city; Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea; and Arcobaleno is an Italian word for rainbow - and according to Google it is also a curse and a television show or animated game.

Mongrain's goblets and other vessels in each of these series are large and elaborate vessels decorated with, or perhaps guarded by, mythological sea and air creatures. Dragons, birds and seahorses abound. The vessels are delicate and colorful, sensual in form, and often with spiral stems and the creatures attached to sides and top.

The Arcobaleno series comprises 12 lidded vessels in clear, gem-colored glass: ruby, amethyst, emerald, topaz, aquamarine and tourmaline.

The Poseidon series features seahorses, swans, dragons and other creatures. In all but one of the dozen they are in matched pairs facing off in balanced compositions. The creatures are as large as the goblets to which they are attached, and the bodies of the goblets are decorated with intricate and subtle cane patterning in double helix and spiraling striations.

The vessels in the Atlantis series are in clear and opalescent glass. This series seen as a group reminds me of Martin Blank's "Fluent Steps" in the reflecting pool at MOG, but "Atlantis" is more delicate and more beautiful.

Finally, the Adriatico series features large golden mythological creatures on top of large vessels. There are purple, green and blue vessels, and the golden creatures on top are seahorses and dragons and birds, including one spiraling two-headed birdlike creature with a pair of long, sensuous necks.

This exhibition offers more to see than can be absorbed in a single visit. It is interesting for the blend of traditional and modern art and the comparison between Mongrain and the historical Venetian artists who inspired him.

"Ispirazione: James Mongrain and the Stroemple Collection," 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday; noon-5 p.m., Sunday, through Oct. 15, $5-$15, free to members, free Third Thursday, Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma, 866.468.7386, museumofglass.org

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