Donald Friedlich: The Glass Alchemist

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Donald Friedlich can be called a glass alchemist.

Fascinated by its chemical, material and aesthetic properties, he has dedicated the last twenty years of his artistic research to the discovery and exploration of this material, so elusive and challenging writes Ilaria Ruggiero.

Among the many achievements, in 2003 he was the first jeweller to be an Artist in Residence at The Studio of the Corning Museum of Glass. In 2004 Friedlich was a featured speaker at an international jewellery conference in Melbourne, Australia and an Artist in Residence in both the Glass and Goldsmithing Programs of Canberra School of Art at Australian National University. In 2009 he was the first American to have a solo exhibition at Villa Bengel in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, and was a featured speaker at the annual Glass Art Society conference. In 2010 he toured China and lectured at universities in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hangzhou.

In 2011 Friedlich was the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers and a featured speaker at a jewellery conference in Dubai, UAE. In 2012 he was an Artist in Residence at California College of Art in both the glass and metalsmithing programs for the spring semester. In 2014 he was an Artist in Residence at the Uroboros Glass Factory in Portland, Oregon, where he was able to create a series of cast glass sculptures. In 2015 he joined the Board of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+) and was a featured speaker at SOFA Chicago. In 2016 he lectured at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC as part of the James Renwick Alliance Distinguished Artist Series and was the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths in Asheville, North Carolina. He was also selected for what is widely considered the top jewellery exhibition in the world, Schmuck 2016 in Munich, Germany. In 2017 he received an award from SNAG in recognition of his extensive service to the organization and the field.

Donald focuses on the exploration of intrinsic material qualities of glass such as brightness, transparency and colour. The shapes of his pieces are always essential, geometric, regular, characterized by a conciliatory and meditative rhythm.

In the Lumina Series he relies on the unique optical qualities of a material he has always disliked, dichroic glass, but he has been able to find a way of working with it that calms down its harshness and makes it more appealing.

It’s a continuation of his interest in identifying qualities that are unique to jewellery as a medium. Some designs from the Lumina Series dramatically shift in colour when viewed at different angles. Others in this series shift in colour intensity. Sometimes they appears almost like internally lit neon tubes, saturated with colour and full of light. From other angles the colour fades or disappears…

The result is extraordinary, unfortunately not fully appreciable in photos.

For Donald, glass represents a kind of filter through which to look at reality, but also it represents the reality condensed into a pure element such as colour, perfect and silent, mutant.

His work is inspired by great masters of contemporary art such as Mark Rothko, Dan Flavin and James Turrell. The ingenious use of light, which becomes a work of art in James Turrel's incredible interventions, the dense purity of colour in Rothko's canvases, or the magic of colour and its infinite varieties in Dan Flavin's installations, are all angles through which appreciate Donald's creations.

This is how he describes the Lumina Brooches: ‘My Lumina Brooches are in part inspired by the effect of sunlight that is reflected by the moon and at time diffused by cloud cover or fog.’

His work, with a strong and precise spiritual character, invites, always delicately and subtly, to contemplation, introspection and perception.

Donald Friedlich received his BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing from Rhode Island School of Design in 1982. He has been a leading figure in contemporary American jewelry and has served a term as President of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) and earlier as Chair of the Editorial Advisory Board of Metalsmith magazine. His jewelry has been shown in galleries and museums all over the world and is in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Cooper 

Hewitt Design Museum, the Schmuckmuseum, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and many others. 

About the Contributing Writer

Ilaria Ruggiero is a cultural manager and curator working in the field of contemporary art. She is the founder of Adornment - Curating Contemporary Art Jewelry, a curatorial integrated project dedicated to contemporary art jewelry. It aims to develop the knowledge and consciousness of contemporary jewelry as artistic discipline and as ground search for technique, aesthetics, and philosophy.


Rebecca van Rooijen


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