Robert Willson won a fellowship from the University of Texas in 1935 to study in Mexico. His time there was disrupted by student strikes, and he spent his time traveling around the country visiting historical sites. He met several prominent artists of the day, including Diego Rivera, who invited Willson to paint a small section of his mural on the wall of the National Palace. Back in the United States, Willson sought employment in Florida, settling in Miami, where he was a professor of art for more than twenty years. In the late 1950s he traveled to Italy for the first time and discovered the Venetian glassblowers on the island of Murano. He returned almost every summer for the rest of his life, working in the factories with teams of Italian craftsmen to create large, solid glass sculptures. Willson was one of the first American artists to work with hot glass and the first to experiment extensively with a sculpting technique called a massiccio (in the mass), creating solid rather than hollow forms from hot glass. His figures, landscapes, animals, and abstract shapes resemble colorful drawings encased in clear glass.