In the late 1940s, contemporary glass production was given new energy as Frances (1912 – 2004) and Michael (1908 – 1999) Higgins reinvigorated the ancient practice of glass fusing. Capitalizing on the post-World War II interest in bright colors and abstract patterns, the Higginses produced mostly functional items sold through major retailers and worked with glass companies until they formally established their private studio in Illinois. Frances and Michael’s partnership—both personal and professional—seemed to fuel their creative energy, and they devoted their lives to creating a seemingly endless array of plates, bowls, dishes, vases, and more.
Racine Art Museum recently established an archive collection of 75 works created collaboratively and individually by the Higginses. For example, in addition to production glassware, there is a large, multi-faceted frieze of trees, buildings, and butterflies attributed to Frances and a “treasure chest” of glass, wood, and fiber assigned to Michael. This volume of work—a large portion of which debuts in this exhibition—offers a chance to look at modernist glass through the works themselves and through the lens of a creative partnership with nuanced gives and takes.
Higgins Glass Studio—initially established in the Higginses’ apartment—still exists in Riverside, Illinois. As per the wishes of the Higginses themselves, the studio is now owned and operated by Louise and Jonathan Wimmer, a mother and son who studied with the couple.
Even if glassware from the Higginses is familiar, their involvement with the twentieth-century conversations that changed studio glass is not as well-known. The study guide that accompanies this compelling exhibition offers the chance to illuminate dynamic aspects of their story—linking threads of many conversations including the landscape of modern craft, the role of function and form, the balance of creativity, innovation, and collaboration, and aspects of entrepreneurship, process and production, consumerism, and interior design.
Significantly, this is the first exhibition in RAM’s Collection Focus series to focus on artists primarily working with glass.