Art: Bone Appetite

  • Michelle Seaton

Creating a 4,000-pound piece of glass art was only part of the challenge for

Jonathan Christie; once he completed Lyrical Light, he had to find a place to

hang it. Originally, his work, a 100-foot-long sculpture of spiraling stainless

steel studded with more than 500 identical glass horns, was supposed to hang

from the ceiling of the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts in

Jacksonville, Fla. However, after Christie finished the piece, in January,

engineers examined the facility, the majority of which had been built in the

early 1960s, and determined that the cement ceiling blocks were too weak to

support the installation.

Christie, a 38-year-old native of Glasgow, Scotland, who is a professor of

glass and sculpture at Jacksonville University, had to move Lyrical Light to the

arts center’s newly constructed lobby. But this new location presented another

problem: how to illuminate the sculpture’s blue glass horns. “We had to get

light under it to give it some punch,” says Christie, who toyed with the notion

of tearing up the lobby floor to install lights. Ultimately, he placed a track

of lights along the soffit of a balcony that overlooks the lobby.

The prospect of such dilemmas may explain why so few artists do glasswork on

this scale. Many master glassblowers limit their work to figurines, spheres, and

other small pieces that can show off a deft touch with color and shape without

requiring the help of building engineers, lighting consultants, and commissioned

frames of stainless steel. However, Christie, who contributed to Dale Chihuly’s

current exhibit at the Phipps Conservatory and Botantical Gardens in Pittsburgh,

Pa., likes the possibilities that large glass installations present. He

demonstrated the medium’s potential two years ago, when he was hired to create a

commemorative piece for the Davis College of Business at Jacksonville

University. Donor Flo Davis had rejected the suggestion of a bronze bust, saying

that she favored glassworks instead. For the building’s lobby, Christie designed

a huge chandelier in the shape of a stylized palm tree with steel branches and

slender white glass leaves.

To some observers, Lyrical Light might look like the skeleton of a

prehistoric sea creature. If so, that is no coincidence. Christie enjoys forming

glass bones, anchoring them together with steel rods, and arranging them in

whimsical poses. One of his early skeleton works was commissioned by businessman

Robert Shiffler as part of a work that would both honor Shiffler’s late brother

Richard and house his ashes. Christie, who collaborated on the piece with Joel

Otterson, fashioned two red glass skeletons to stand against a working 1961 AMI

jukebox containing all of Richard’s favorite 45s. Christie also blew a container

in the shape of a flaming heart that now contains Richard’s ashes and sits

inside the jukebox. The work, titled Divine Intervention, has been touring the

country for six years.

Although he would rather be conceiving and installing two-ton glassworks such

as Lyrical Light—no matter what headaches come with the commissions—Christie

continues to fill requests to make life-size, clear glass skeletons that are

dancing, praying, or leaping. When asked what sort of art collector gravitates

to such a macabre subject, Christie shrugs and says, “I get a lot of

doctors.”

Jonathan Christie
206.234.8682
art.ju.edu/christie

Photo by Richard P. Goodbody Inc.
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