Arts & Theater

Glass takes center stage in Crocker Museum exhibits

Fred Uhl Ball’s untitled work from 1982 is part of the “Little Dreams” exhibit at the Crocker.
Fred Uhl Ball’s untitled work from 1982 is part of the “Little Dreams” exhibit at the Crocker.

This is “The Summer of Glass” at the Crocker Art Museum.


First to open is “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.” Running through Sept. 11, the exhibit surveys the art of enameling and features pieces ranging from jewelry to large wall art. Enameling is a process in which powdered glass is fired onto a metal surface.

Chihuly’s work will be featured in the “Glass for the New Millennium: Masterworks from the Kaplan-Ostergaard Collection,” open from July 10 to Oct. 2. “The Luster of Ages: Ancient Glass from the Marcy Friedman Collection” runs July 17 through Oct. 16.

Organized by the Los Angeles-based Enamel Arts Foundation, “Little Dreams” includes 121 works by 90 artists, including the late Sacramentan Fred Uhl Ball, who is considered a pioneer in the field.

Ball wrote “Experimental Techniques in Enameling” in 1972 and created many large-scale enamel works for Sacramento. Among them is “The Way Home,” a monumental composition of four 6-by-62-foot panels, each comprising more than 1,488 enameled copper tiles, each 12 by 12 inches. The work was installed on the side of a downtown Sacramento parking garage in 1979.

A large-scale untitled 1982 work by Ball is one of the first things you see in the Crocker exhibition. It’s a dazzling collage of enameled fragments in brilliant gold.

Ball died in 1985 from injuries resulting from a mugging outside his L Street studio, but his spirit lives on in the work of artists he influenced. Among them is Judy Stone, whose “Burnt Offering: Hermioni 3,” is in the exhibit. The work is a thin, luminous, torn and reassembled vessel that poetically alludes to the fragility of the body and its ability to renew itself.

Her work is displayed in a case that includes austere yet exquisitely colored vessels by Jade Snow Wong that have the elegant simplicity of Soong Dynasty porcelains. Wong, who studied at Mills College with Fred Ball’s father, F. Carlton Ball, was the author of the 1945 book “Fifth Chinese Daughter.” The work was illustrated by Kathryn Uhl Ball, Fred’s mother.

In a nearby case are stunning enamel works of electroformed copper foil by June Schwarcz, a mentor to generations of young and emerging artists, whose inventive approaches to the medium have set the standard for enameling. “Vessel #2193, Dancer,” 2001, is an abstract sculpture made of curving planes of rich color that whimsically terminate in gold-tipped balls.

Though it is small, Juan Esteban Perez’s wall piece “Burning Sunset,” 1970, is an intense, brilliantly colored patchwork of fiery hues with silver wire bent into rectilinear shapes that add texture to the piece. Helen Elliott’s “Journal 7,” 2007, a porcelain enamel on steel, is a subtly colored arrangement of diaphanous shapes against a dark background made up of 30 layers rubbed with an abrasive tool to give a matte finish.

In addition to strong abstractions, the show also includes a number of cityscapes and still-life images mostly from the 1950s with Cubist influences that have a nostalgic feeling. They include works relating to religion and spirituality, such as Jean Goodwin Ames’ sweet “Angel in Adoration,” 1952. Also among the offerings are humorous and sometimes naughty figurative works like William Harper’s “Dirty Dominoes #4,” 1970.

“Little Dreams” is a fascinating, historically important show of the highest quality, composed of more outstanding works than I can mention. Don’t miss it.

Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present

Where: Crocker Art Museum, 216 O St., Sacramento

When: Through Sept. 11.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday.

Cost: $10-$5; free for members and children 6 and under. Every third Sunday of the Month is “Pay What You Wish Sunday.”

More information: 916-808-7000 or