Jerry Catania

Jerry Catania - Meet the Curator

In 1972, glass artist Jerry Catania was one of thirty students accepted to study under the direction of Dale Chihuly and Fritz Dreisbach at the esteemed Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state. Afterward, Jerry returned to Southwest Michigan to set up his first studio, Organic Glass in his father’s mechanic’s garage, followed by a second home studio called Fiasco Glass,, named for raffia-covered wine bottles found in Italy. In 1989, Jerry moved Fiasco Glass north along the shore of Lake Michigan, to Glenn, where he and his wife Kathy transformed a 19th century barn and farmhouse into their studio and gallery called Vesuvius.

Jerry was an outstanding glass artist and devoted art educator. His lifelong teaching career started in the Peace Corp in 1969 and included positions in elementary schools, community colleges, and at Michigan State University (MSU). Jerry retired from MSU in 2005 as the Field Supervisor for art education. Alongside his teaching career, Jerry was always doing glass - nights, weekends, and summers, often taking a portable studio on the back of his Jeep truck, to places like CraftSummer at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.   

In 1985, one such portable furnace launched the glass program at the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artist’s Residency in Saugatuck, Michigan.  There he taught for 30 years, on the edge of Ox-Bow’s Lagoon, the place he felt was the most beautiful location for a studio outside of Murano, Italy.

Jerry’s local impact as the founder of Water Street Glassworks (WSG) in 2004 in Benton Harbor was immense. It was his “big city idea in your hometown,” a place where individuals and families could learn the joy and skills of the glass and metal arts. The school’s signature program,  Fired Up!  is a tuition-free after-school glass program for teens. Students discover how to work with glass, learn to collaborate, lead and express themselves. They also develop business skills, exhibit and market their work, and interact with the WSG’s visiting artists.

Dale Chihuly’s Beacon Gold Chandelier, the magnificent glass sculpture that greets guests when they enter the Krasl Art Center, was acquired with the help of Jerry. His expertise and advocacy were critical to the acquisition of this beautiful, site specific sculpture made of 200 individually blown pieces of glass in both the leaf and horn forms.

KAC is honored to have spent time working alongside Jerry this past fall to develop the exhibition Artists as Influencers: Pathways in Glass. Always humble, Jerry simply wanted guests to see the great work of these artists, the critical impact of arts education and mentorship, and the continued evolution of glass as an exciting and innovative medium in contemporary art.