Glassmaker Amber Cowan is the third recipient of the Smithsonian Women’s Committee Delphi Award. She was one of fifteen mid-career artists nominated by experts and ranked by curators for the 2023 Award and received the highest ranking. One of the curators stated, “Of the fifteen artists under consideration Amber Cowan is most likely to make the greatest contribution to the art of this century.”
Cowan has long been fascinated by the splendor of glassmaking. Her use of found glass in her work pays homage in many ways to the history of American glass manufacturing.
Cowan reworks broken and discarded glass called cullet, repurposing the vintage scraps left behind by 19th and 20th century American glass factories. She also uses a combination of techniques including the ancient style of soft Venetian glass sculpting, flame-working, and glass blowing. She collects some of her found glass herself and some is given to her by admirers who send her broken family items and heirlooms so that she can give them new life through her work.
Over the past 15 years, Cowan has studied at several schools across the country including the Corning Museum of Glass and Pilchuck Glass School She received her master’s degree in glass and ceramics at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University where she currently teaches the next generation of artists.
Cowan has received numerous awards including being selected in 2021 for the very prestigious United States Artists Fellowship, a $50,000 unrestricted award that recognizes artists for their contributions to the field. The awards come with a year of financial planning support, allowing the recipients to decide how best to support their lives.
The SWC Delphi Award is given annually by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee to one or more mid-career American artists who demonstrate distinction, creativity, and exceptional artistry in their work, and who are predicted by experts in the field to someday join that pantheon of artists who have reached the pinnacle of sculptural arts and design. Previous winners are Stephen Young Lee and Roberto Lugo. Cowan will receive her Delphi Award from Kathy Sommerkamp, President of the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, at the 2023 Smithsonian Craft Show, to be held May 3 – May 7 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
Steven Young Lee is a master ceramicist, having studied the intricacies and unique forms of ceramics not only in the United States, but in China and Korea as well. Instead of remaining content with his skills, he uses his arena to explore the concepts of belonging, expectation, and perfection in art and in life. Lee is the teacher who engages us in the investigation of his sculptural pieces, which often embody flawless structures that have purposely been broken or fractured in the making. He says that “deconstructing and imploding the forms creates a visceral reaction that defies the human desire for perfection and confronts the perception of value.” He hopes to “redefine” that which is considered beautiful.
Lee is the resident artistic director of the Archie Bray foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. He has lectured and taught throughout North America and Asia, and was a visiting professor at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, B. C. His work has been collected by the Smithsonian Institution and the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, among other museums, and he has recently shown in exhibits in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. He received his BFA and MFA in ceramics at Alfred University.
Ceramicist Roberto Lugo hails from a tradition of street art, using his keen talents to explore historical inequalities. He is a self-described ghetto
potter and activist. Lugo throws and hand builds with a variety of clay, shaping exceptionally crafted vessels, teapots and plates molded and decorated in the Euro-Asian tradition, but with a twist. Instead of bygone royalty adorning his work, he honors underrepresented people of color. Lugo says that he puts portraits on his pots in order to “recontextualize history”. And his art is defined by curator Glenn Adamson as “masking old techniques in order to better redeploy them.” Lugo holds an MFA from Penn State, and a BFA in Ceramics from the Kansas City Art Institute. His work has been featured in the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among other galleries and museums. He is the recipient of various awards, including the 2019 Pew Fellowship, the 2018 Artist of the Year by the Ceramics Arts Network and has been awarded a U.S. Artist Award. Additionally, he has been a lecturer and visiting artist at many art schools across the country and is known for his generosity in helping to advance the careers of fellow artists of color.
The SWC Delphi Award complements the prestigious Smithsonian Visionary Award, which was established in 2014 and is presented annually at the Smithsonian Craft Show by the Secretary of the Smithsonian. Winners of the highly coveted Visionary Award, all of whom are extensively represented in major museums world-wide, include Wendell Castle, Albert Paley, Dale Chihuly, Toots Zynsky, Faith Ringgold, Joyce J. Scott, Patti Warashina, David Ellsworth and Michael Hurwitz.