Heavily influenced by medieval iconography and the intense color found in Byzantine panel paintings, Judith Schaechter’s work defies the current interests in the field of glass, which is typified by abstraction and transparency. Playing on the religious traditions of stained glass as a medium, her subjects explore human frailty and tragedy, yet there is not a specific didactic narrative, which has characterized the intent of stained glass for centuries.
Schaechter (b. 1961, Gainesville, FL) began her artistic career as a painter, receiving a BFA degree from Rhode Island School of Design in 1983. During this time, she was introduced to glassblowing and in a matter of weeks, she realized the expressive potential of the medium. Schaechter turned to stained glass, rejecting contemporary explorations of the material’s form and function. She researched its origins in Europe from the 12th century until the Protestant Reformation, and its resurfacing during the late 19th century Arts and Craft movement.
Despite the aesthetic consonances with medieval stained glass, the iconography of her work is devoid of religious subject matter. The intricacy of her imagery is derived from myriad sources, such as comic books, old book illustrations, art history, and biology. Her human and animal figures suggest a state of either complete despair or a moment of transcendence. She describes her own work as “beautiful” stating, “beauty is considered the most horrible crime you can commit in the modern art world. People are suspicious of anything that makes them feel as though they may lose control. Beauty forces you to confront your helplessness as well as your dark side. My work is not intended to make comfortable people unhappy, although it may make unhappy people comfortable.”1
Although Schaechter’s technique is rooted in stained glass traditions, it has no specific technical precedent. She uses flash glass to create her work, which is a colored glass with thinner layers of translucent colors. She is able to create subtle variations in her color palette by sandblasting and engraving the flash sheets, often layering several pieces together. She then models her images in black enamel. The images are then assembled using lead with a traditional copper foil technique and installed in a light box.
Judith Schaechter is the recipient of many grants, including two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work is included in the collections of Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and numerous private collections. Judith has taught at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, Rhode Island School of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Schaechter has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout her career, including Nexus, Philadelphia, PA (1984, 1986 and 1988); Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia, PA (1990); Virtue Triumphs, La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (1992); Helander Gallery, Palm Beach, FL and New York, NY (1993); John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygen, WI (1995); Heart Attacks, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA (1995); Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH (1996); Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Morris Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (1998); Agni Fine Arts, The Hague, Netherlands (1999); Smalands Museum, Vaxjo Sweden (2001); Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, WV (2001); and Stained, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO (2004). In 2004, Schaechter was featured in a major traveling exhibition featuring works between 1988 and 2003 at Arnot Museum, Elmira, NY, the Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA and Bass Museum, Miami Beach, FL. In 2012, she created a major site specific installation, The Battle of Carnival and Lent, for the Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA (2012). She has been featured in several solo exhibitions at Snyderman-Works, Philadelphia and is currently represented by Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, NY.
Selected group exhibitions include: Contemporary Philadelphia Artists, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (1990); GlassWorks, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (1990); Design Visions, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth Cultural Center, Perth Australia (1992);American Crafts: The Nation’s Collection, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (1992); Treasures From the Corning Museum, Yokohama Museum, Yokohama, Japan (1992); The Rhode Island Connection: 13 Contemporary Glass Masters, Newport Art Museum, Newport, RI (1993); Glass Today, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH (1997); Twenty Philadelphia Artists: Celebrating Fleisher Challenge at 20, Philadelphia Museum of Art (1998); Biennial 1998, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE (1998);American Glass: Masters of the Art, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, (1998-2000);Bizarro World!, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, FL (2000); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2002); Triennial 9 Form and Contents: Corporeal Identity, Museum fur Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany, Chicago Athenaeum and the Museum of Arts and Design (2003);Cheongju International Craft Biennale 2005, Cheongju City, Korea (2005); Point of View IV, Mint Museum of Craft and Design (2007); Pretty Is As Pretty Does, SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe NM (2009); Venice Biennale Collateral exhibition Glasstress, Venice, Italy (2011); History in the Making: Renwick Invitational, Renwick Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (2011); Studio Glass: Anna and Joe Mendel Collection, Musée Des Beaux Arts Montréal, Montreal, Canada (2011); The Glass Canvas, Het Glazen Huis, Lommel Belgium (2011); Playing With Fire; 50 Year of Contemporary Glass, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY (2012); The Female Gaze, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA (2012); andGlasstress New York, New Art from the Venice Biennales, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY (2012).
Judith Schaechter is an adjunct professor in the Craft & Material Studies department at the University of the Arts. She lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
1 “Profile: Judith Schaechter” University of the Arts, updated 2015, www.uarts.edu/users/jschaechter