The man called the father of the Studio Glass Movement was not at first a glass artist. After receiving a master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Arts he embarked on the career of potter. Littleton received recognition for his work as a ceramicist in a national exhibition sponsored by the American Crafts Council at the First International Exposition of Ceramics in Cannes, France.
In 1959 he began to investigate the possibility of glass as a medium, and in 1960 had melted glass and cold-worked lumps of cullet. In the summer of 1962 the Toledo Museum of Art invited Littleton to lead a glassblowing workshop. It was in that seminar that Littleton introduced the idea that glass could be mixed and melted, blown and worked in the studio by the artist. Up to that time it was widely believed that glass objects could only be made in the highly structured, mass-produced world of the glass industry where the labor of making glass is divided between designers and skilled craftsmen.
That fall Littleton, who had been employed since 1951 as a ceramics teacher at the University of Wisconsin, began to offer glassblowing classes through the university at his farm outside Madison, Wisconsin. In 1963 he established a graduate course and glass studio at the university that attracted as students such well-known artists as Marvin Lipofsky and Dale Chihuly.
Museum recognition for Littleton's work in glass soon followed in the form of solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago (1963) and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York (l964). His work is in prestigious public collections including New York's Museum of Arts and Design, Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art. His work is also featured in the collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, Detroit Institute of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum and the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC.
Littleton retired from teaching in 1976 to devote his time fully to his work. He moved to Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where he set up his glass studio and produced his most technically demanding and beautiful series of works: the sinuous "Lyrical Movement" and "Implied Movement" groups, "Descending" forms and exuberant "Crowns" composed of multiple soaring arcs.