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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Head of the Glass: ODU’s Cheryl White Directs City's Newest Art Venue

By Tom Robinson

As director of the new Glass Wheel Studio, Old Dominion University alumna Cheryl White glows at the hub of Norfolk's buzzing NEON arts district.

"The Chrysler Museum and the opera house are anchors, but I think we're going to be an anchor, too," said White, a former adjunct instructor with Old Dominion degrees in art history and humanities. "Art is the love of my life, and there is an amazing culture of people here. To be able to nurture these artists in my hometown is really big for me."

Opened last fall in collaboration with the City of Norfolk, the Glass Wheel Studio is 8,500 square feet of bright galleries and artist workspaces in a renovated building on West Olney Road.

The influence of Old Dominion's visual arts program is felt throughout the building and the enterprise.

With momentum building in the city to create a dedicated downtown arts district north of Brambleton Ave., long-time University and Chrysler Museum benefactors Pat and Doug Perry initiated Glass Wheel to support and grow the culture of glass art.

The Chrysler's Perry Glass Studio, which includes a full glass-blowing hot shop, features one of the world's largest and oldest glass collections. In fact, the international Glass Art Society chose the Chrysler to host its 2017 annual conference.

That is the environment in which White, a former curatorial coordinator at the Chrysler, responded to the Perrys' request to create a leadership vision for the fledgling Glass Wheel Studio. Impressed by White's ideas and credentials, they hired her for the very position she drew up.

White spent months visiting glass museums and artist-incubator programs around the country to learn, but to also promote Virginia's own glass-blowing history dating to the Jamestown settlement. At the same time, White formed a Studio Artist Selection Committee to review applications pouring in for Glass Wheel's 13 personal workspaces available to artists for modest annual rent.

That committee includes numerous individuals with Old Dominion ties: John Roth, an assistant professor of art; Heather Bryant, alumna and adjunct instructor; Heather Hakimzadeh, alumna and curator at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach; alumnus Solomon Isekeije, director of Norfolk State University's fine arts division; and Charlotte Potter, adjunct instructor and glass studio manager at the Chrysler Museum.

University-affiliated artists working in Glass Wheel spaces are Potter, adjunct Neal Robinson, alumna and adjunct Heidi Peelen, and alumna Maggie Bush.

"This gives me a designated work space and a community of artists," said Bush, a retired Navy nurse who returned to Old Dominion for a bachelor's degree in painting and drawing. "We meet every month to do critiques and go over things. You find out there are other artists with the same kind of ideas you have and we can collaborate. I'm really excited."

Bush, who also received her nursing degree from ODU while serving in the Navy, said White's enthusiasm and the vibrancy within Glass Wheel inspires her.

"I know I'm older than a majority of the artists involved with NEON, but I like being around younger-minded people," Bush, 48, said with a smile. "And I think I have something to offer, too."

While embracing visual art of all kinds, White said she believes her greatest contributions can come through working to bridge the divide among glass and non-glass artists.

"There's this whole great glass community, but it tends to stay focused on itself," White said. "We need to have a bigger conversation" across the art world.

The Glass Wheel provides that in part by offering artists commercial space that previously did not exist in the area.

"You can sell your production ornaments in the (Chrysler) gift shop, but a visiting artist can't sell a $3,000 or $10,000 piece there," said White, who added she already has gallery exhibitions booked a year out.

The inaugural exhibit, "Provenance," runs through Sunday, Jan. 17. White will host a free gallery chat at 2 p.m. on closing day to discuss Glass Wheel's next exhibitions and events.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunity to participate at the Glass Wheel Studio," said Peelen, the ODU graduate and adjunct. "It's very important to the area; there isn't anything like it and there wasn't anything like it before."

Glass Wheel Studio is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, visit the Glass Wheel Studio website.

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