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Published: Sunday, 8/20/2006

Toledo Museum of Art polishes newest gem


The glass is gleaming, cement is cured, trees are planted, the floors are scrubbed.

Six years of intense planning culminates in this week s celebrations of the Toledo Museum of Art s latest masterpiece: the Glass Pavilion, which opens to the public next Sunday and for a series of invitation-only previews and festivities beginning Tuesday.

A sleek whisper of a building, the pavilion is nestled in a grove of mature maples and oaks at the edge of the gracious Old West End neighborhood, across Monroe Street from the main museum. It showcases and stores one of the world s finest collections of glass 5,000 pieces spanning 4,000 years of glassmaking painstakingly packed, moved, and unpacked from the vaults across the street.

Its unique dynamism is fire: In 2,400-degree furnaces, students and renowned artists alike will manipulate and blow molten gobs in glass-walled studios visible to visitors. And in a half-dozen, specially equipped classrooms on the main and lower levels, techniques such as flamework, stained glass, slumping, casting, and sandblasting will be taught to adults and children.

The vibrancy of making glass is complemented by serenity. Given the park-like setting they had to work with, architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa aimed to dissolve the barriers between inside and out. That meant creating lovely exterior views visible from nearly every spot in the building and incorporating three courtyards as well as a contemplative sitting room.

Work on the 15-foot-tall pavilion, led by its Japanese designers and its local general contractor, Rudolph/Libbe Inc., fanned out to subcontractors around the world.

To a degree far beyond what is typical in the United States but the norm in Japan, the key players collaborated during hundreds of meetings, many of which resulted in refining tricky design and mechanical challenges.

The $30 million pavilion was paid for by a $60 million fund-raising campaign, the largest in the city s history, led for three years by Waterville art lovers Georgia and David Welles, who were also largely responsible for the museum s sculpture garden.

Glassblowing instructor Robin Schultes works with molten glass at the new Glass Pavilion. Glassblowing instructor Robin Schultes works with molten glass at the new Glass Pavilion.

I don t like to do it, Mrs. Welles told The Blade for a March article, speaking about asking people for money.

I ve done it a lot, but it s something you need to do.

The Glass Pavilion will surely elevate the city s reputation as a glass center, which dates to August, 1888, when Toledoans turned out with fanfare to welcome 250 New England glass workers and their families at the train station.

They would work at the new glass factory built by young Edward Drummond Libbey, who was joined in a few years by glass blower and technological wizard Michael Owens.

The pair had extraordinary synergy and vision and led the area, which once had 70 glass companies, to world prominence.

Mr. Libbey and his wife, Florence Scott Libbey, led the founding of the Toledo Museum of Art.

The public will have its first chance to explore the pavilion next Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., when visitors are invited to the inauguration.

That ceremony will begin with remarks and a ribbon cutting, followed by tours and glass-blowing demonstrations.

By-invitation-only events marking the opening of the Glass Pavilion include:

  • Tuesday, An Iridescent Evening, 7:30 to 10 p.m., for the members of the President s and Business Council and major donors to the Founders of the Second Century campaign.

  • Wednesday, VIP/media preview, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Open house for media and community leaders.

    Also Wednesday, a Luminescent Event, 7:30 to 10 p.m. A semi-formal party for museum members at the Luminary, Contributing, Reciprocal, or Supporting levels and higher.

  • Thursday, An Opalescent Occasion, 7:30 to 10 p.m. Casual-chic cocktail party for all TMA members.

  • Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Members-only preview.

  • Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Members-only preview.

    The cost of all preview events has been covered by donations from KeyBank; DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund; The Andersons Inc.; Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP; Therma-Tru Doors; Sky Bank/Sky Trust/Sky Insurance; Dana Corporation Foundation; Fifth Third Bank, and Health Care REIT Inc.

    Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.

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