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Past Ron Desmett Awardees

2024 Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman seen in her artwork Balanced Meal   Gayle Forman is not playing around, even though her work is ultimately about play. 

Gayle Forman Describes Her Work
The flipping, sliding, and swinging of molten glass through a completely mechanized factory outside of Prague, Czech Republic struck me. This joyous blob of glass was at odds with the efficiency of factory production and dialed in systems, and there was something so poignant about the glass still finding moments of free, unrestricted motion within those rigorous confines. It was this encounter in the Czech glass factory in late 2014 that deepened my curiosity about the versatility of materials and how they’re used. The idea that perhaps all materials could – and should – be questioned and pressed to reveal their limitations and breaking points, opened up a world of fascinating possibilities to me. By questioning how a material is used and why it works, we can start considering, what else can it do? In my work, I strive to find something I refer to as the “wiggle” — instances in which materials, objects, or people no longer have defined limitations and can fluctuate between hard and soft, rigid or flexible. I seek to combine materials and aesthetics in new ways to play with their boundaries and expectations. Integral to this work is the undercurrent of play, or the state of being that encourages exuberant discovery.

Although these fascinations take shape in a myriad of media, the research is all informed by the material possibilities that glass provides. If glass can be stretchy and gooey then splinter in the following instant, I find myself imagining that foam could shatter or cardboard could inflate. As I continue to question structure and form, I am distinguishing how to describe temporary elements such as motion or fluidity while striving to encapsulate or freeze these moments through the permanency of materials and functional objects.

Project Description
In the endless quest for wiggle, I have stumbled upon its antithesis, or perhaps its resting state—suspension. Objects or bodies suspended in gravity, neither reacting to nor defying its force. Bodies frozen in time are especially captivating, with the exact moment of stoppage captured exquisitely, as if they could continue moving any second. I propose using this residency to delve into processes in glass to develop a library of material samples through which I am able to successfully capture moments of “freeze” motion in glass. Through processes such as freeze and fuse and casting with glass “foam”, I will develop different samples and components to then reanimate through the reintroduction of heat through the flame and hot shops. During the 10-day residency, I will begin in the kiln shop, creating small to midsize samples that can be made in short firing cycles, testing formulas and different mixtures. Towards the second half of the residency, I will bring these samples and small sculptures into the flame and hot shops, to reintroduce the “wiggle” through heat.

This work builds on the experimentation I began during my Fulbright, where I conducted tests creating hybrid materials combining silicone, concrete, and foam to see if there were certain proportions or mixtures that could create new materials, circumventing the expectations or functions of the originals. In learning about the glass processes mentioned above, I finally discovered a salient way to incorporate glass back into this material research. The residency that accompanies the Ron Desmett Award would provide support for me to launch the initial stages of this project. In the PGC studio, I will make experimental sculptures and samples that will be artworks in their own right, and also provide important material information that I plan to incorporate into future projects.

Pittsburgh Glass Center is the studio that first introduced me to glassmaking as a high school student, and so it is only fitting that I’d return to this very studio for a project that reimagines the material that has been so central to my career. As my project requires pure experimentation and play, a 10-day residency that supports creativity without commercial end-goals is essential for me to develop this new body of work exploring the tensions between wiggle and suspension.

About Gayle Forman
An avid fan of frozen treats, I gravitate toward things that melt, spill, and generally make a mess. A self-proclaimed absurdist, I found my practice on imagination and play, sifting through frivolous and foolish events of daily life seeking moments of “eureka”. Everyday life provides a stage for illogical intervention, from setting up a playground in a glass studio or casting a classical sculpture in rubber. I search for moments of “wiggle”, when materials move beyond their boundaries. Though these fascinations take shape in a myriad of media, my research is informed by the material possibilities that glass provides. If glass can be s t r e t c h y and gooey then splinter in the following instant, perhaps foam could shatter or cardboard could inflate.

First encountering glass during high school at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, I received my BFA in Glass from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014. Since then I’ve worked within museums, nonprofits, and fabrication studios as an educator and administrator, concurrently maintaining my artistic practice. In 2019, I was a Fulbright U.S. Study & Research grantee in São Paulo, Brazil, researching gambiarra, a practice of creative and makeshift material reuse. Inspired by this methodology, I worked in affiliation with the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo and Instituto Campana, a non-profit founded by Brazilian designers the Campana Brothers. This experience impacted my thinking and how I can further explore the experiences of daily life and the inevitable materials we use to construct it. Glass is a ubiquitous material, understood on some level by everyone, and I see this understanding begin to change when someone sees glass in its molten state. That moment of transformation or surprise is something that I attempt to capture throughout my work. From interaction and activation emerge new fantastic functions for ordinary objects or materials.

2023 Awardee: Layo Bright

Layo Bright received the 2023 Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass. Bright is interested in incorporating African design techniques and symbolism into her glass sculptures, which merge her background as a Nigerian woman with the techniques of glass sculpting. 

Bright is a multimedia sculptor living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She will receive a $2,500 cash award and time in PGC’s studios to create a new body of glass works that explore narratives and material cultures of the African diaspora and Black feminism. Bright plans to create figurative hollow vessel sculptures with blow molds, and face-size glass masks of family members and her close community members inspired by traditional African masks. Each piece will utilize different glass-making techniques such as casting, slumping, and fusing. The sculptures will vary in size and shape and will include intricate details such as flora and relief symbols. 

The artist states: “I am interested in the properties of glass, and how this material can be used to convey themes of resilience, transparency, reflection, fragility, and transformation. One of the key features of glass that I hope to explore further and emphasize in my practice is the idea of transparency. Glass is a material that is often associated with transparency and clarity, and I believe that these qualities can be used to convey a sense of openness and opportunities for light to play an active role in the transformation of the sculptures. By creating sculptures that are multi-layered and complex, I hope to convey a sense of depth and nuance, inviting viewers to consider the many layers of meaning that can be found in each piece.” 

About Layo Bright 
Layo Bright’s sculptural practice explores migration, inheritance, legacy, and identity through hybrid portraits, textiles, and mixed media works that highlight natural forms and ancestral memory. Employing a range of materials such as glass, clay, wood, and textiles, these forms mirror fragile yet complex relationships with the personal, natural, and built environment.

Bright (b.1991, Lagos, Nigeria) received her LL. B (Hons.) from Babcock University, was called to the Nigerian Bar Association and received her MFA in Fine Art (Hons.) from the Parsons School of Design. Bright has exhibited work both internationally and nationally. Solo and group exhibitions include Rockhaven, moniquemeloche, Chicago, IL; The Alchemists, Johnson Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, GA; Undercurrents, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, NY; Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, IN; Bode Projects, Berlin, Germany; Phillips, New York, NY; among others. She has participated in notable art fairs including Art Basel Hong Kong 2023, EXPO Chicago 2023, Art Basel Miami Beach 2022, Future Fair 2021, etc.

Previous residencies include Tyler School of Glass, Philadelphia, PA; NXTHVN Fellowship in New Haven, CT; Triangle, Brooklyn, NY; Flux Factory, Queens, NY; The Studios at Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA; Tritryagain Studio Residency, Brooklyn, NY; International Studio Center Sculpture Residency at Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton Township, NJ. She is the recipient of honors and awards including the UrbanGlass Winter Scholarship Award (2021/2020), the International Sculpture Center’s 2018 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award (2018), and the Beyoncé Formation Finalist Scholarship (2017). Bright lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

2022 Awardee: Inna Babaeva

Inna B

“I am a sculptor and I use mass-produced objects and materials that are available for purchase and mix them with forms that I make myself. Living in our culture of conformist mass-production, I question how we make choices between ordinary and unique; machine-made and crafted by hand; disposable and precious.


Glass is a fascinating material. It does not decompose over time, but can be broken in a second. It allows you to see outer and inner layers of a form simultaneously. It is hard to control during making and can surprise you with the shape it assumes. Its transparency and color can fluctuate.”

Inna Babaeva


Inna Babaeva is a sculptor working in a variety of mediums. She was born in Lviv, Ukraine and currently lives and works in New York City. She discovered glass in a residency in 2017 at Urban Glass in Brooklyn, NY. To this day she continues using hand blown glass as a main element of her work.


In her residency at PGC she plans to expand her work from her show “Word of Mouth” at Essex Flowers gallery and at Hofstra University to create a hundred or more glass spheres of fluctuating translucency that would perpetually spin in the water surface inside plastic buckets. Her residency at PGC will be the ground work for a future public art project.


More About Inna Babaeva


Inna Babaeva was born in Lviv, Ukraine, and she lives and works in New York City. She recently had solo exhibitions at Hofstra University Art Gallery, Hempstead, NY(2021) , Peep Space, Tarrytown, NY (2021), Underdonk, Brooklyn, NY (2021), Essex Flowers, New York, NY (2020), Art in Buildings, New York, NY (2017) and at TSA, Brooklyn, NY (2016). Her work has been shown recently in group exhibitions at Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI, Gordon Galleries at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA (2018), Kienzie Art Foundation, Berlin, German, and Songs for Presidents, Brooklyn, NY. Babaeva’s work gas been featured in Two Coats of Paint, VICE Magazine, ArtFCity, SLEEK Magazine, Sculpture Center Notebooks, Glass Quarterly, and Art News. Babaeva is a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation grant (2007), a Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program grant (2015), a Visiting Artist Fellowship grant at Urban Glass (2017), and she was a Rema Hort Mann Foundation grant nominee (2016). Her work is in the permanent collection of the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI. Babaeva received her BFA from Florida Atlantic University and her MFA from Rutgers University.

2021 Awardee: Marcy Chevali

Mary Chevali

Mary Chevali, a visual artist with an MFA from the Maine College of Art, was awarded the 2021 Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass.

Chevali has been making networked glass sculptures by flameworking 3mm rods of borosilicate into shapes that resemble mountains. Thus far, the shapes have been independent of each other. Through the Desmett residency she plans to create an assemblage of shapes that work together to create a large mountain range or series of connected shapes. By layering glass and put shapes inside of larger shapes she’ll create more intricate landscapes.

My work draws from landscape. I wander and observe the world that I live in and pull images and forms from my memories to create drawings and sculptures that reference mountains, bluffs and other land formations. I isolate and reimagine to create self-contained forms. I create a new imagined reality to exist in. I am interested in my place in the landscape and much of my recent work deals with the scale of my body and the circumference of my reach. I make drawings with pencil or gouache on paper, site specific earth drawings, sculptural installations with yarn and large drawings with knit wire.

The forms that I make are translucent, hesitant, and vulnerable. They are fragile, lacking the strength to support. There is a certain handmade, drawn quality to some of the forms, giving it a slightly hesitant or delicate look. When formed into a grid or net however, the glass rods form a structure that has the tensile strength to expand outward into large scale forms. The work oscillates between disappearance and infinity. I make sculptures from networked glass rods that are fragile in contrast to a mountain.

About Marcy Chevali

Marcy Chevali is a visual artist with an MFA from the Maine College of Art. She has shown work in galleries and artists’ spaces including Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, Queens Museum of Art, AIR Gallery, Gallery Aferro, and Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, and with organizations such as Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, ABC No Rio, Project for an Empty Space, 4heads and Peculiar Works Projects. She was awarded an artist grant from the Queens Art Fund in 2015. In 2016 she attended Playa Artists Residency and in 2017 was a fellow at the Edward Albee Foundation. In 2021 her work was exhibited in a solo show at Aicon Gallery in NYC.

In 2018 she participated in the Bead Project at Urban Glass in Brooklyn. Since then she has been flame working, making both jewelry and sculpture with soda lime glass and borosilicate.

2020 Awardee: Anna Lehner

Anna Lehner

Anna Lehner is an interdisciplinary artist working at the intersections of art and structural geology. During her residency at PGC, she will create artwork that brings attention to the themes of instability and fracture and as a whole to broaden the bridge of art and science and to push the optical qualities of glass as a vehicle for talking about the forces at play in our natural environment.

As an artist I explore aspects of geologic and human timescale through, installation, live data, glass, written word and soundscape. The underlying stressors within the earth’s tectonic plates constantly shape the land which we inhabit. The fault lines and tremors in our continental surfaces tell the story of a foundation that is in constant motion and unrest.

I am interested in exploring the facets of fracture within tectonic plates and how they correlate to human chronology. The physical memory of past seismic events are embedded within the material makeup of our continents and these records give us a glimpse into the past. This inquiry connects to the themes and materials used in my practice. I work with glass for its ability to encompass qualities of fragility, instability and reflection. I consider the scale shift between us and the geologic through sculpture and installation. My artwork is fueled by these areas of unknowing and unrest, and the events that span beyond typical human timeframes.

View photos of her residency


About Anna Lehner

Anna Lehner is an interdisciplinary artist working at the intersections of art and structural geology.

In 2019 Lehner received a MA/MFA in Glass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a graduate associate to the Center for Culture, History and Environment within the Nelson Institute. In 2016 received a BFA in 3D Fine Art and a BA in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Lehner has received multiple awards including a New Zealand Fulbright Graduate Research Award and included in professional publications such as “New Glass Review” of the Corning Museum of Glass.

2019 Awardee: Chenyang Mu

Chenyang Mu

Chenyang Mu was selected from over 50 applicants to receive the second Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass. Her work was selected by the jury for its innovated use of glass as a material and the risks she tasks as an artist to incorporate sound into her unique, imaginative, and interactive pieces. She will receive a $2,500 cash award and time in PGC’s studios to create a new body of work.

“Sounds evoke shapes which in turn change the sounds. All my works integrate sound, shape, and material. As glass is different from wood and metal and can be turned into some shapes and sizes easily, it’s elementary to produce unexpected surprises and feelings,” said Mu.

Mu plans to deconstruct and reconstruct sound with a group of interactive works. She will be exploring ways to make sounds with different glass forms and shapes using solid glass, glass sheet, glass frit, and paper-like glass and analyze the different sounds that come from different forms.

“I plan to blow dozens of different glass shapes and mirrorize them. Then put a speaker in each shape and play a sound, a greeting, a sentence, or only a word. The sounds will be changed by the different glass forms to create an imaginary sound field,” she said.

About Chenyang Mu

Chenyang Mu was born in Yantai, China. Her undergraduate major was experimental design at Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in China, mainly to research diverse materials, such as wood, metal, fiber, ceramics, bamboo, Chinese Lacquer, and glass.

Mu decided to create with glass as her primary material because of the secret atmosphere underneath the transparent surface. And she thought sounds have shapes which in turn can alter the sounds. Furthermore, glass is more pliable than some other materials, such as wood, or metal, and can be formed into many shapes and sizes easily, therefore producing unexpected surprises and feelings.

In 2019, Mu finished her MFA in glass from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and is still working with glass and sound in Rochester, NY.

2018 Inaugural Awardee: Percy Echols II

Percy Echols

Percy Echols II was selected as the first recipient of the Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass. The award recognizes artists who think outside of the box, practice curiosity, and take risks to create unique, imaginative works in glass or incorporating glass, characteristics that PGC’s late co-founder Ron Desmett valued. Echols receives a $2,500 cash award and time in PGC’s studios to create a new body of work between August 2018 and September 2019. Echols is the only recipient of the award this year. Fifty-one applications were received from around the world.

Percy Echols’ Passion is Plasma

Percy Echols is passionate about plasma or plasma neon, a process requiring the technical and artist expressions of glass with the alchemical and scientific application of excited gases and specialized equipment used in neon. With this award, he will continue to build his skill set for plasma neon.

“Something that I feel I really need for my own work is the time to build and develop a foundation for this medium sculpturally. It would be a good time to push the scale of my work and to explore ideas in a realm that has never been seen in Pittsburgh,” he said.

He plans to:

  • Make original work that uses plasma as an artistic medium
  • Dispel the novel associations of plasma globes and neon signs
  • Research and develop a space to explore this new medium

“Plasma brings something unique to glass, and that is to invite touch, something very difficult. By producing light through the use of electrified gases it removes the barrier between the viewer and art with its animated glow, allowing an invitation for play as it responds to the viewer’s proximity and touch,” he said.

Echols’ interest in plasma began in 2014 at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, WA. He was introduced to the medium through furnace glassblowing in a class taught by Patrick Collentine. He continued working in plasma while pursuing his BFA at Illinois State University while also working with a local neon and sign making shop in Bloomington, IL.

After graduation in 2016, Echols worked at Pittsburgh Glass Center as a studio technician apprentice. During that time he designed and built his first mobile neon lab, a compact and mobile system for vacuuming and filling vessels for plasma or neon tubing. He performed his first public demonstrations, conducted workshops and continued to experiment with the medium. In addition, he has been using the lab to collaborate with artists such as Robert Mickelsen and Chris Ahalt to create new work.

Echols launched a blog and podcast called “Taming Lightning” in May 2017 to connect with a larger plasma and neon community, build a network, conduct research and share ideas among artists and makers that use the medium. 

Most recently, Echols was invited to participate in a neon, plasma, and light exhibition on Murano called “Vetro Illuminato” during the Glass Art Society (GAS) Conference in May in Murano, Italy. This exhibition at Berengo Studio is on view until November 2018.