Crafting America is now open at Crystal Bridges, and in addition to the works found in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery, visitors can also find a new work of art, made entirely of glass, in the museum’s collection gallery. Learn more about this newly commissioned work, Belonging(s) (2020) by Beth Lipman here.
Wisconsin-based artist Beth Lipman is well known for her detailed works made entirely of glass. Her sculptural practice explores aspects of material culture and deep time through still lives, site-specific installations, and photographs. Ephemeral and intricate, her work addresses mortality, materiality, and temporality, critical issues since the inception of the still-life tradition in the seventeenth century, that continue to be relevant. Lipman is also known for site-responsive installations that activate the specific history of objects, individuals, and institutions.
In conjunction with Crafting America, Crystal Bridges invited Lipman to create a newly commissioned work of art. She chose to respond to a set of eighteenth-century paintings in its collection attributed to the artist Gerardus Duyckinck I.
These portraits show three generations of a prominent German-Jewish family in New York City: Abigaill Levy Franks, her husband Jacob Franks, four of the couple’s nine children, and Abigaill’s father, Moses Raphael Levy. All of the figures wear fine clothing, indicating the family’s wealth. The ship in the background of Moses’s portrait signals his success as a merchant. Life in the colonies presented opportunity but also cultural change that tested family bonds. Letters by Abigaill reveal she worried her children might lose their sense of Jewish identity.
Lipman’s response to the portraits, titled Belonging(s), addresses the theme of migration head-on. The glass sculpture is in the form of a traveling trunk, and by rendering it in clear-cast glass, she allows viewers to see into its interior. Objects that could be associated with the Levy Frankses’ trade and travel have been placed in the interior, such as cacao pods, domestic textiles, religious artifacts, assorted vessels, and chains—all fabricated in glass and developed in response to research into the experiences of Abigaill Levy Franks and her family in a unique act of commemoration.
According to the catalog Crafting America: Artists and Objects, 1940 to Today, the work lends “the ghostly feeling of a dimly remembered past—not altogether different from the partial view of the Levy Frankses’ lives afforded by the portraits themselves—an act of commemoration, leaving infinite room for the imagination.”
This work, part of the Crafting America exhibition, can be viewed in the Early American Art Gallery next to the Duyckinck portraits by which it was inspired.
Learn more about Beth Lipman and her practice in glass with this clip from PBS’ Craft in America: