Raise a Glass! Pittsburgh Glass Center to Celebrate 20 Years of Magnifying a Most Magnificent Material
By Reese Randall
April 21, 2021
Over the course of twenty years, Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) has been on a mission to create a prism of opportunity in glass as an art and production for artists and the community. Heather McElwee, the Randi & L. Van V. Dauler, Jr. Executive Director of Pittsburgh Glass Center has thrived at PGC for the past two decades contributing in various capacities that have facilitated the trajectory of the organization’s mission. “We want to encompass a list of opportunities,” explains McElwee. “This list includes teaching classes for the novice to accomplished artist; creating an artist residency for artists from Pittsburgh and all over the world such as Russia, China and Italy; promoting the work of artists; and supporting artists in creating opportunities for the making and promoting of their craft, such as rental space opportunities and the PGC shop to sell their wares.”
No stranger to creating glass artistry, McElwee has curated “Lifeforms”, “Pittsburgh Biennial” and “Turned On: Lighting Hooks Up with Sculpture” at Hodge Gallery located at PGC, as well as in galleries nationwide. “I’ve been involved for the past twenty years with the Center since my move to Pittsburgh in 2001 — when it first opened,” says McElwee. “I just graduated with an undergraduate degree in glass; and as a fresh budding artist, I got really excited what the Glass Center could be. This month is my tenth anniversary as executive director.”
McElwee made the transition from artist to administrator in 2006 when she discovered that she enjoyed helping build the organization and bringing people together. “It was then that I attended CMU to earn a Master’s in Arts Management,” recalls McElwee. She returned as the Center’s assistant director. “I still know how to blow glass, however, I’m not much of a practicing artist now, but I do it for pleasure,” says McElwee. She explains the PGC is a facility that is one of a small handful around the world that artists can do so much. “If it’s a type of glass-working that needs to be done, it can be done in our building,” says McElwee.
The LEED-certified building was erected in 2001. “As we continue to grow, we plan and think about how we use materials,” says McElwee. “A large amount of the clear glass that isn’t being used because it’s broken goes into our furnace and is recycled,” explains McElwee.
PGC has also created ways to generate sustainability in design. “We offer stepping stone kits that is an at-home activity,” explains McElwee. “There is a Make a Stained-Glass Sun Catcher where the glass used is scrap glass of edges that have been cut off. In addition, the waste scrap we use is cut up and used for the kit, Make a Mosaic. The scrap glass doesn’t go into the landfill,” says McElwee. “These are called Glass to go Kits and everything you need is included in the kit.”
Overseeing the educational programming, exhibitions, fundraising and strategic direction for the organization has been instrumental in more than 50 artists moving to Pittsburgh over the organization’s 20-year span. “We support our arts community," says McElwee. “To see an influx of artists, the gallery and the opportunity to discuss the history of glass-making in Pittsburgh is beyond rewarding; and — if steel hadn't eclipsed our industry, I believe Pittsburgh would be known as the Glass City.”
Working with other organizations in the city to exhibit talent throughout Pittsburgh by means of public demonstration is also top-of-mind for McElwee. “Next month, we are holding an open call for artists to be selected to curate an art exhibit in collaboration with our partnership with Pittsburgh Botanical Garden. The exhibit will be on display from November and will run through March of 2022.”
For more information about Pittsburgh Glass Center, go to www.pittsburghglasscenter.org. 5472 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412.365.2145.