Next-gen glass

Alumni of UW–Madison’s Glass Lab are on the leading edge, forging new directions in the field. They are building notable careers as artists, scientific glassmakers, executive directors, and more. In addition, they are receiving prestigious awards, fellowships, and grants to further their work. Here is what just a few alumni who have graduated in the last five years are up to.

Anna Lehner, MFA 2019

Anna Lehner
Lehner; @alehnerglass

Lehner is the executive director of the Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts in Minneapolis. Their artistic work focuses on environmental themes rooted in geologic and human timescales. In early 2020 on a Fulbright Graduate Research Award, Lehner went out into the field with scientists and researchers to learn more about seismic activity along the Alpine Fault in New Zealand. “I am drawn to the boundaries where tectonic plates come together and collide, and where they separate and form new bedrock,” Lehner says. Their work explores the facets of fracture within tectonic plates and how they correlate to human chronology.

Examples of Lehner’s work:

Click on each image to view a larger version. From left to right are: “Timescale,” 2018; “Soft Rock,” 2018; “Brittle Boundaries,” 2019; and “Shifting Foundations,” 2020.


Ben Orozco, BFA 2019

Ben Orozco
Orozco; @bexoro

Orozco is an interdisciplinary artist who uses glass materially as part of a larger practice, and the graphic designer and web manager for the Glass Education Exchange (GEEX). “My art-making is an extension of my practice as a graphic designer,” he explains. “I pull out patterns from the world, and re-encode them into works of art.” In 2019 he received a Fulbright-Hays fellowship to research European neon techniques and glass designers in Sweden. It was a “rigorous” art experience, he says, “from the application process, to learning a new language and glassmaking processes, to establishing a neon lab in my host institution.”

Examples of Orozco’s work:

Click on each image to view a larger version. From left to right are: “Optisk ll” and “Händer” (part of 2020 exhibition at The Glass Factory Museum in Sweden); “Palm Plantation,” 2021 (part of 2022 exhibition at the Arts + Literature Laboratory); and “Ghillie Suit,” 2021.


Emily Leach, BFA 2019

Emily Leach
Leach; @emilymleach

“Glass is ubiquitous,” says Leach. “Like reading on a monitor; wearing glasses to enhance vision; appreciating natural light through windows.” Her work challenges “glassy” pretenses; recently she has rebuilt old projector systems and illuminated decommissioned glass slides collected on eBay. After graduating from UW–Madison, Leach’s work was included in the 2020 New Glass Review published by the Corning Museum of Glass — one of only 100 projects selected for this global survey. Leach is also the assistant director for the Glass Education Exchange (GEEX), working to support resource-sharing within the glass community.

Examples of Leach’s work:

Click on each image to view a larger version. From left to right are: “Reading the Sequence,” 2019 (triptych and close up view); and “Reminder (on the Cultivation of Decay),” 2020.


Heather Sutherland, MFA 2017

Heather Sutherland


Sutherland’s work combines glass with performance and other materials to depict concepts of gender, commodity, luxury, and labor. “I use glass as a lens,” she says. “Sometimes to look through, and other times to look at the complexities of gender, desire, and personal struggles.” After graduating from UW–Madison, Sutherland was an Emerging Artist-in-Residence at the acclaimed Pilchuck Glass School and a Creative Arts Fellow at WheatonArts. Her work was included in Pilchuck’s recent traveling exhibition, “Autonomous Zones,” highlighting 24 artists who have participated in the glass school’s emerging artist program from across the program’s 31-year history.

Examples of Sutherland’s work:

Click on each image to view a larger version. From left to right are: “Mouth Full of Diamonds” (part of 2017 MFA thesis exhibition); “Marie,” 2018; “Savage Beauty,” 2018 (performance at the Chrysler Museum glass studio); and “Baby, You Are a Diamond” (part of 2022 Pilchuck 50th anniversary exhibition).


Lauren Aria, BFA 2022

Lauren Aria

Aria’s work explores flow, viscosity, and physicality through performance and glass art. Using the unique material properties of glass, she exposes how fluids move through our bodies and the fluidity of our bodies’ movements. Upon graduating from UW–Madison, she received the prestigious Windgate-Lamar Fellowship Award from the Center for Craft. The award included a grant of $15,000 for Aria to develop a solo exhibition — the result of which was titled “Future Body” and presented at UW–Madison’s Art Lofts Gallery in January 2023. “It has been a great honor to receive this award and to have such a large amount of funding and support to help achieve my goals post-graduation,” says Aria.

Examples of Aria’s work:

Click on each image to view a larger version. From left to right are: “VTG Geometry,” 2021; “Paracentesis,” 2021; “I am the potato, I empty the chamber, I fail to retain, the material expelled,” 2021; and Future Body//Synthetic Takeover,” 2022.


Sam Merkel, BFA 2018

Sam Merkel
Merkel; @sammerkel

Merkel co-owns and operates the Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass Cooperative in Berkeley, California, and has built a career fabricating glass instruments for scientific applications. “I think that one of the most exciting things about the glass industry is how it continues to be in demand both in our everyday lives and on the forefront of science and technology,” he says. “Our clients include research laboratories; chemical, pharmaceutical, food, and supplement producers; medical institutions; art restoration houses; automotive manufacturers; landscape contractors; hobbyists; artists; renowned individuals; run-of-the-mill mad scientists; and beyond.”

Examples of Merkel’s work:

Click on each image to view a larger version. These are all custom glass instruments designed for scientific applications.

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