Toots Zynsky (b. 1951)
Born in Massachusetts in 1951, Mary Ann “Toots” Zynsky is a master of Studio Glass, celebrated for her characteristic heat-formed glass thread vessels and her fearless exploration of form and color.
Utilizing a process of her own design, known as “filet de verre,” Zynsky layers and arranges super fine glass threads on fiberglass board in a method the artist has likened to drawing or painting. These thin threads are then thermally fused in the kiln as the artist shapes and curves the glass into the fluid waves that characterize her vessels.
Of her work Zynksy explains, “You can never see the whole piece at once. There’s always something mysterious.”
Known as “Toots” since childhood, Zynsky received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1973, working under the tutelage of famed glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. She and fellow classmates James Carpenter, Bruce Chao, Dan Dailey, and Therman Statom explored the potential of glass, pushing the boundaries of the medium.
While still at RISD, Zynksy helped Dale Chihuly found and develop the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington. After graduating in 1973, she went to work at Pilchuck. This is where she conceived her “spun glass” and pulled-thread technique she named filet-de-verre, inspired by images of barbed wire, which she has describes as “a powerful symbol of the failure of humanity…material to keep each other apart.”
In the 1980s, Zynsky went to Brooklyn as Assistant Director at the New York Experiment Glass Workshop (known today as Urban Glass). She traveled to Europe on a small grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and, with Mathijs Teunissen Van Manen, a Dutch artist and inventor, invented a glass thread-pulling machine that bettered her filet-de-verre process.
Zynsky suffered several personal losses over the course of only a few years. She struggled in the studio until, fatigued by prismatic colors, she focused on red, which she calls “the color of life”. These pieces, which incorporate blacks and purples that deepen and shadow, are memento mori. The act of placing glass threads brings each piece to life and hold the memory of the people she’s loved and lost. Not surprisingly, her work in this phase has been a solitary, contemplative pursuit, a thing apart from the group dynamic that originally lured her to the craft.
Toots Zynsky’s work is highly sought after by collectors and commands impressive prices on the secondary market. Her work is in the collections of notable institutions including The Corning Museum of Glass, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Houston, Victoria and Albert Museum of London and many more.