Art of the Matter

Five Questions with Alumna Holly Wolf-Mattick

Close-up of Wolf-Mattick's handcrafted art glass piece

Glass artist Holly Wolf-Mattick (FAA '02) recently installed a new work in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building lobby as part of the state of Illinois' Art-in-Architecture program. Wolf-Mattick's proposal was selected from among a number of artists' submissions.

The large-scale piece, composed of 210 strands of colored glass tubing and discs suspended on stainless steel cables, is 13 feet high by 35 feet wide. Strand by strand, the installation was hung by Wolf-Mattick along with a representative from the Art-in-Architecture program and two campus Facilities and Services staff members. 

Wolf-Mattick holds an MFA from Illinois in glass and sculpture.

How did you develop your idea for this installation?

I always start with a site visit, and I really try to respond to the space. This one was quite different from past works. I have a piece in Lincoln Hall, and that space is quite intimate, while this one is larger and very geometric. A lot of my work plays off of organic versus geometric. When I saw this space, I really wanted to add a softer, organic, handmade element to the very linear interior design. 

Holly Wolf-Mattick

What techniques did you use to create the piece?

A lot of my work uses handmade glass tubing that is blown in the glass-blowing studio. To make the tubing, I add whatever colors I want to the clear glass that comes from the furnace. At that point it's basically a blown bubble, like you would use to make a vase. Once the bubble is on the blow pipe, glass is attached to the other end, and when the heat is right, a partner and I walk in opposite directions to stretch that bubble across the studio. After it's annealed in the kiln, it's cut, and the ends are ground and polished. The discs in the piece are made by fusing techniques: cutting colorful sheets of glass circles and then layering the pieces and heating in the kiln until the pieces all fuse together into one.

Did the specific location (as an engineering building) play into your concept?

Holly Wolf-Mattick Art Installation
Wolf-Mattick (far right) and crew carefully installing her artwork

Very vaguely, when I was creating this, I thought of the accumulation of parts being like the accumulation of ideas in a learning situation. With the curves, and some of the discs having ripple patterns, I thought of waves, tying into engineering in a broad way. But I didn't want it to be too specific of a theme, so that with the abstract element hopefully people can look at it and take away their own ideas.

What impact did your time in the MFA program have on your career?

When I entered, I didn't expect my work to change so drastically in three years. Having all of that time and free rein with equipment . . . it was great to experiment with things, trash the ideas that didn't work, and build on the ones that did. The time itself gave me the ability to develop ideas quite a bit more.

The program was small—not a huge group of graduate students and faculty—so it was pretty personal. It was nice to be a part of that community.