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.”