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Ancient, modern glass glowing in art exhibit

There's a story told at the Museum of Fine Arts that the guards think the current display of glass art is the most beautiful exhibit ever held in the Foster Gallery.

Glass as an art medium is held in high esteem these days, and displays of similar interest and quality are on show in a variety of museums around the country.At the Boston museum, as at the others, there is beauty - but also surprising diversity in the works, the colors, textures and shapes, what the artists did and how they did it.

There are 75 pieces by 28 artists in "Glass Today by American Studio Artists," the museum's first exhibition devoted to contemporary studio glass.

It will be there through Jan. 11, as will a complementary exhibit, "Glass As Sculpture," in the museum's American Contemporary Crafts Gallery.

Studio glass is the product of an art glass movement that has rediscovered glass as a fine-art medium, largely since the 1960s, through the adaptation of mass-production glassmaking technology to the scale of the individual artist's studio.

This glass is an extraordinary material in the hands of extraordinary artists, said Jonathan L. Fairbanks, the Boston museum's curator of American decorative arts and sculpture. He organized the "Glass Today" exhibit with exhibition coordinator Pat Warner.

"This is a show that emphasizes how differently each artist handles glass," Fairbanks said.

The exhibit features works made of blown glass, cast glass, laminated plate glass, fused, ground and polished glass, painted glass and fused glass fibers. There are glass benches, vases and jars - some with animal representations.

In "Little Compton," artist Carol Cohen of Cambridge painted birds, grasses, cattails on thin sheets of glass and stood them on edge with slight gaps between them. She also painted text from bird books and poems on curved end sheets of glass that resemble pages of a book.

Fairbanks said many of the artists were painters, sculptors, draftsmen or other types of artists before turning to glass. Some work in their new and old fields.

Other glass artists explore the effects of light on layers and planes of glass or use pieces of crystal symbolically to express emotion.