PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THOMAS STEARNS
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This large multicolored glass sculpture designed by Thomas Stearns and executed by one of Venini's master glass workers, "Checco" Ongaro, is a tour de force which required not only impressive physical strength but great technical skill and ingenuity to realize.
Stearns had come to Venini in 1960 fresh from his graduate studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and full of ideas, but his youthful enthusiasm and taste for experimentation was not fully appreciated by the older glass maestros there. It was the talented junior glass blower, "Checco", who encouraged and supported Thomas' vision by eagerly taking up the challenges posed by Thomas' complex designs. Stearns and Ongaro worked successfully over the next two years to produce a small body of distinctly original work, culminating in a series of three Sentinels, their very last project together. The preparation for the Sentinels was painstaking; Stearns spent a week setting up for each sculpture, Ongaro then fabricated them in a single day.
Each of the three Sentinels are slightly different from one another. The first Sentinel created, Version I, is now in the glass collection of Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu. The third Sentinel, which was the largest by several inches, was unfortunately broken in shipping from Venice and exists only as a fragment. Version II is the largest of the two Sentinels still in existence.
Thomas intended the Sentinels as a sort of memorial of his experience of Venice. In the artist's words:
Reluctantly closing the end of my two years at Venini, I was urged to foster one last token of my efforts -- a salute -- as well as an omen you might say -- one's own metaphysical format of delight and despair, smile and tears. As it were, the Sentinels of Venice were wed...a collective of fascination, wonderment, chagrin, piety, and apathy for my beloved acquired home, Venice. My attempt, or struggle, was to describe three forms as guardians. Beacons as it were, much as the very mystical Bermuda triangle. One point bearing homage to the domain and/or seat of power (the Ducal Palace); one point bearing homage to Murano (the Island of Glass) and representing Venice's centuries of fostering the skills of expertise; and the remaining point St. Michele, the cemetery or final resting place of all endeavors. Hypothetically, however, looking with scrutiny one will find the presence of tool markings which were intended to connote mappings, much as an oceanographer describes the seabed. The three Sentinels were intended to be placed in a circular room to imbue their own resolve, such is the optimism of man.
October 22, 2001
cf. William Warmus, curator, The Venetians, Modern Glass 1919-1990, Muriel Karasik Gallery exhibition catalogue,1989, pp. 53 and 55; The American Craft Museum, Venetian Glass, The Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu Collection, 2000, p. 171 and p. 230 for illustrations of Sentinella di Venezia, Version I.