Instructor Highlight at The Studio: William Gudenrath

William Gudenrath is a glassblower, scholar, lecturer, and teacher. He is an authority on historical hot glassworking techniques from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance, and has presented lectures and demonstrations throughout the world. As resident adviser for The Studio, Bill ensures excellence in the facility and its programs.

Bill started The Studio with his wife Amy Schwartz, director of The Studio, in 1995. He began teaching that first summer in 1996. For over 15 years, Bill has been teaching about six courses a year. He says his teaching method is “a very clear formula.” It begins with a demonstration of a procedure, and then students repeat creating that part multiple times. The procedures progress from easy to more difficult. The process of repeatedly creating isolated parts of an object allows the student to pay attention to the details.

Bill Gudenrath teaching at The Studio

Teaching at The Studio

“I teach the fundamentals of the Venetian style, which is blowing glass thinly, making blown feet and mereses, making simple handles, and dealing with various decorative features. But above all, doing the really hard work of learning the fundamentals in a way that allows you to – virtually every time – succeed in making an object. It’s the same thing that a pianist does practicing years and years of scales and arpeggios and tricky patterns so that when those things come up in a piece, you’re ready for them.”

To many glass artists, Bill’s Introduction to Venetian Techniques course is a rite-of-passage as a glassblower. In the one week session, his goal is for students to build a firm foundation in the basic movements and techniques of Venetian-style glassblowing.

“When a student leaves my class, I hope that they understand what they’re doing, so they can self-diagnose their problems as they come up. So that if they review everything they know about the process, and really think about it, the solution to the problem will reveal itself.”

As a tradition, Bill takes the class to study the glass in the Museum’s galleries. It’s a process that is both inspiring and frustrating, as the students attempt re-creating the historic techniques back in the hot shop. Bill acknowledges the frustration, but sees it as a learning opportunity. “I think the greatest glassblowing was happening in Venice during the Renaissance and early baroque period. When you look at early objects, truth is, whether they’re Roman, medieval, Renaissance, and even late 19thcentury, the people who made those, made just those objects,” he says. “When you spend generations focusing on one thing, you get better than anybody possibly can today.”

Historical Goblets by William Gudenrath

Historical Goblets by William Gudenrath

Bill has dedicated his career to becoming a specialist in the techniques of glassmaking. By observing original objects hands-on, he takes note of small details and then begins the process of trying to figure out how it was made. Taking anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, Bill will note tool marks, bubbles, and connection points to come to the best conclusion that he can reach on how the object was formed. His publications, which are often heavily illustrated with photographic documentation of the techniques, include Five Thousand Years of Glass (British Museum Press, 1991) Glassworking Techniques: Venice, 1450-1700 (The Glass Art Society Journal, 1989) and Recent Research on the Portland Vase: The Manufacture of the Vase And Its Ancient Repair (Journal of Glass Studies, 1990) with David Whitehouse.

In his own work, Bill creates new designs based on historical models. “I’ll come up with a curious mix of Roman design, a little bit of Venetian influence, and I’ll mix it all and come up with something that, to a glass historian, is interesting because they can see what it’s based on,” says Bill. His works are sold in the Museum’s GlassMarket, as well as galleries nationwide.

Bill Gudenrath demonstrates during a class at The Studio

Gudenrath demonstrates during a class at The Studio

“Between the first-rate facilities, the world-class Museum, the library of record on the subject of glass both a few hundred feet away, plus curators who are top in their specialty on the subject of glass, and scientists in town who can help answer technical questions, it’s a unique place and I can’t imagine a better combination,” says Bill of The Studio. “I love teaching, I never get tired of it.”