Temple University professor wins award for glassworking

Madeline Rile Smith discovered her love for glassworking in high school and turned it into a career.

Madeline Rile Smith, a 2014 glass alumna and adjunct professor at Tyler School of Art, holds a glass piece over a flame in Tyler’s Irwin Borowsky Glass Studio on Feb. 3. | ADAM PYSHER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Madeline Rile Smith opened the email notifying her that she won the 2022 Saxe Emerging Artists Award, her day came to an abrupt pause. 

“I took a moment of reflection to be like, ‘oh my gosh this happened,’ and just a moment to be thankful,” said Rile Smith, a 2014 glass major and adjunct professor at Temple University and Salem Community College. 

Rile Smith was one of three winners to receive the 2022 Saxe Emerging Artists Award, an award for glassworkers meant to increase the winner’s exposure in the glass community. The award includes $200, the opportunity to present her work at the Glass Art Society conference in Tacoma, Washington, in May and have her work included in a separate digital exhibition.

Rile Smith wanted to be nominated and apply for the Saxe Award before but was ineligible because she was in graduate school at Rochester Institute of Technology, she said.

Current students and people who graduated more than 12 years ago are not eligible for the award, according to the GAS website.

For her application, Rile Smith submitted pictures of recent pieces she made, like a glass trumpet that needs multiple people to play it, and Take It All In, a face piece that amplifies the wearer’s senses while also exposing them to potential harm, she said.  

Rile Smith admires several artists who won the award, like former Tyler students Kris Rumman, a 2018 alumna who won in 2019, Nate Ricciuto, a 2015 alumnus who won the award in 2020, Morgan Gilbreath, a 2014 alumna who won in 2021, and Erin Hoffman, a 2015 alumna who won in 2021, she said. 

Rile Smith originally planned on becoming a violinist but changed her mind when she took glassworking as an elective during her junior year of high school at the Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill. While making beads, vases and sculptures in class, she fell in love with glass because of its versatility and interactive nature, she said. 

“When you’re melting glass it’s so immediate it starts to shape and move almost instantly and you have to respond to it so it’s this constant state of, like, being actively engaged with this medium,” Rile Smith said. 

She spent most of her free time working in the Crefeld School’s glass studio or the personal studio she set up in her parent’s garage, Rile Smith added. 

When Rile Smith discovered she could study glassworking in college, she leaped at the chance and applied to the Cleveland Institute of Art, which she attended for two years before transferring to Temple in 2011, she said. 

“This changed the trajectory of my path, of my life,” Rile Smith said. 

Rile Smith started working as an adjunct at Temple in 2021 teaching Introduction to Glass For Non-Tyler BFA Majors because she wanted to help students hone their skills, she said. 

Jessica Jane Julius taught Rile Smith multiple times at Temple and was impressed by her willingness to work outside of her comfort zone and how well she handled criticism, she said. 

Julius is glad to have Rile Smith back at Temple because she goes above and beyond to help students both in and out of her classes, said Julius, associate glass professor and head of the glass program at Tyler. 

Julius was also delighted when Rile Smith won the Saxe Award because she is a hard worker and talented glassworker who continues to push herself as an artist, Julius said. 

“To know that she got it, number one, it was a gift so deserving and then also just really exciting for her,” Julius added.   

Brynn Hurlstone was a teaching assistant for Rile Smith’s Introduction to Glass For Non-Tyler BFA Majors class last year and admires her ability to stay relaxed while working on a project, she said. 

Rile Smith has a dry and absurdist sense of humor which she incorporates into her glasswork through projects like Take It All In, which amplifies the senses with large glass funnels wrapping around the wearer’s face, said Hurlstone, a first year glass master of fine arts student.

“She brought that concept to life through beautiful, clear and minimalist but ridiculous glass,” Hurlstone added.

Winning the Saxe Award and presenting at the conference will increase Rile Smith’s profile as well as validate her work, she said. 

Rile Smith has attended conference lectures at GAS before and is looking forward to finally giving a lecture of her own, she said. 

“You know, getting to give a lecture on my artwork in front of the entire Glass Art Society conference will be really great visibility and a really nice thing to have on my resume,” Rile Smith added. 

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