Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean floor, but as many as one quarter of the ocean’s species rely on these places for survival.”

This information is taken directly from an art exhibit currently on display in the Nautilus Gallery at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Glass artist Emily Williams is showcasing sculptures of coral in “Glass Reef, Hidden Worlds” to call attention to the importance of these habitats referred to as delicate and fragile. Glass is the perfect medium for such an intention as the six works are both fragile and delicate in nature. Their beauty alone packs a visceral power punch that goes a long way in tugging at the consciousness of the viewer. We learn in this edu-art experience that “Pollution and changes to seawater chemistry can make it hard for corals to survive. When coral is in trouble, the rest of the coral reef animals are, too.”

The exhibit features “Green Seaweed” that measures about 8 inches high and 10 inches wide. Williams handles her medium as a master making the piece appear as if it is undulating underwater. The greenish-yellow coral tentacles reach out in various directions. Overall, they form a bowl-like shape. One easily can imagine a current affecting the form thereby transporting us to the reef beneath the sea.

This feeling is repeated in each sculpture, but each work is unique in and of itself. Care was taken to form individual tentacles, the thickness of each part of the coral, their direction, and their interaction to the various parts. It’s the impartation of life to a solid medium that sets this exhibit apart from many art glass shows that can be technically proficient and decorative, but not necessarily alive. The glass sculptures offer a stark contrast of complex, intricate, yet, delicate and airy coral forms.

There are more than 2,500 coral species in the world with about 1,000 of them hard corals that build the coral reefs. They get their color from microscopic, single-celled algae that live and grow within the tissue of hard coral polyps, and from chemicals in the water.

Williams has created clear, green, blue and pink corals.

“Blue Water” is a bit larger than “Green Seaweed” with denser tentacles. These lean to the left as a plant growing toward the sun. The blue colored glass sparkles as it catches the light. Real coral depends on sunlight for food. Scientists have pondered whether they are plants or animals. They consider them animals that have plant cells living in their bodies.

The body of Williams’ “Favia Brain Coral” is a clear circular orb about 14 inches tall and wide. She has created a dense pattern of spiky tentacles to form an arresting, interconnecting pattern.

“Feather Star” is a clear, fern-like coral that’s globular in form. The appendages sweep upwards to join in the top center. Some of the ferns bend inward, some outward to make the 18 inches wide by 12 inches tall glass coral appear to move.

The largest work, “Coral Skeleton,” stands about 21 inches high and 24 inches wide. This stunning see-through vase-like work has a connecting top pattern. The shadow it creates in the case – and how each individual sculpture sparkles – adds to their beauty.

“Pink Plate Coral is round and flatter than several of the others and is about six inches tall and 18 inches wide. The color is, as it is named, a delicate pink.

The exhibition, coordinated by Kitty Dough, the Aquarium’s Exhibit Media Tech, includes a case filled with tools that Williams uses to create her work such as glass and torch tools including hot glass shaping tools and a mini torch with a long, custom-made tip to get into narrow or deep spaces. Her sketchbook lends a peek into how she designs the sculptures and works out the construction details. The case features a glass coral fan – a work in progress – glass prototypes made from borosilicate laboratory glass, as well as special books on the Blaschkas’ glass model. Leopold Blaschka, 1822-1895, and his son Rudolf Blaschka, 1857-1939, were glass artists native to the Bohemian (Czech) – German borderland, known for creating biological models such as glass sea creatures and glass flowers.

The exhibit includes prices for the work as well as contact information for the artist to purchase work.

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