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Devoted Penn State Alumni Gift Studio Glass Collection to Palmer Museum of Art

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Arn and Bette Hoffman

It was after a visit to Seattle—a mecca for studio glass collectors—that Arnold and Bette Hoffman really got hooked. But it wasn’t because they got to see where Dale Chihuly created his stunningly vibrant glass sculptures. It was because they got to see HOW he made them.

“Watching glass blowing is not like watching an artist paint something. There is always something physical happening with glass,” explained Arn.

While in Seattle, Arn and Bette, both Penn State alumni, watched the creation of some of the flowers now seen on the ceiling of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. That experience cemented their desire to not only collect studio glass, but to travel to studios around the world and meet glass artists and collectors.

The Hoffmans recently donated 27 pieces from their collection to the Palmer Museum of Art, some of which is currently on display in A Kaleidoscope of Color: Studio Glass at the Palmer, and established an endowment to support the presentation, storage, and preservation of the works.

“Studio glass is different from flat art, which is easy to store, and doesn’t break,” explained Arn. “We knew we needed to establish an endowment to support the maintenance of the collection, and we also wanted to fund ways to exhibit the glass. We want people to see it in new and interesting ways.”

Oiva Toikka, Life of Singles, 2006, pipe-worked and mold-formed glass.

Since they started collecting more than 30 years ago, Arn and Bette have traveled extensively to visit artists in their studios, and met many people with similar interests.

“If you’re interested in a type of art, when you go to a new place, you look for someone who sells that, or you look for a glass artist,” said Arn.

“Collecting is like a disease,” Arn and Bette joked. “An autoimmune disease, and we don’t know how to cure it!”

Fortunately for the Hoffmans—and Penn State—it’s a “disease” that brings great pleasure.

They are attracted to all kinds of studio glass, from sculptures of people and dynamic objects to vase-like pieces to intricate Chihuly creations.

“If we find something we think is beautiful, we don’t care who made it,” said Arn. “If it attracts us, we consider acquiring it.”

The Hoffmans are most attracted to pieces that tell a story, such as work by Dan Daley, known for his glass and metal sculptures that depict human character and the world we inhabit, and by Therman Statom, who uses pieces of broken glass and other “junk” to create his own sculptures.

Until recently, the Hoffmans divided their collection of nearly 100 works between residences in Pennsylvania and Florida. The “Pennsylvania” works have now found a permanent home at the Palmer, where they join a growing number of recent gifts of studio glass. They have pledged the remainder of their collection to the museum.

The current exhibition at the Palmer, on display through April 30, also includes other recent gifts and some pieces from private collections.

Bette said they decided to gift their collection to Penn State because they wanted other Penn Staters to be able to see it. “Penn State is in our hearts, and we are very proud to have our collection there,” she noted. “We want to give people in central Pennsylvania a chance to see some of the finest studio glass in the world.”

Martin Janecky, Juggler 216-54, 2011, hot-sculpted glass.Above: Oiva Toikka, Life of Singles, 2006, pipe-worked and mold-formed glass. Gift of Bette and Arnold Hoffman, 2016.114.1-16.

Left: Martin Janecky, Juggler 216-54, 2011, hot-sculpted glass. Gift of Bette and Arnold Hoffman, 2016.99.