Jane Shadel Spillman retired from her position as the Museum’s curator of American glass on April 12, 2013. Spillman began working at the Museum on June 21, 1965, right out of graduate school (she was one of the first to graduate from the now renowned Cooperstown Graduate Program for Museum Studies). She joined the Museum’s small staff of 13 as the research assistant and curator of education.
One of her first responsibilities was answering letters from visitors about their glass. “It was a great way to learn,” says Spillman. “To this day, the thing I enjoy most is research: figuring out what something is, how it was made, what it was used for.”
Spillman says she came to the Museum because it was a “thoroughly professional, small museum” but she thought she’d quickly move on to a larger museum.
“I was able to work with everything,” recalls Spillman. “It was a great education.” Spillman helped with the Junior Curators program, cataloged the print collection, and was able to continue her education through offsite courses, conferences, and training programs with the support of directors Paul Perrot and Dwight Lanmon.
Forty-eight years later, Spillman says she stayed because she’s always been impressed with the Museum’s spirit. Throughout her career, she held a variety of curatorial positions and worked on a diverse body of projects. In 1978, Spillman was appointed associate curator of American glass.
She has published numerous articles and books, including The American Cut Glass Industry: T. G. Hawkes and His Competitors (1996), White House Glassware: Two Centuries of Presidential Entertaining (1989), and Mt. Washington & Pairpoint Glass, Vol. 2 (with Kenneth M. Wilson, 2011).
In addition, Spillman has curated some of the Museum’s most popular exhibitions, including Glass of the Maharajahs: European Cut Glass Furnishings for Indian Royalty (2006), The Queen’s Collection: Danish Royal Glass (1996), Dining at the White House (1989), and Glass from World’s Fairs (1986).
“I had the privilege in 1989 of being asked to catalog the glass and ceramics collection at the White House,” says Jane. “In return, I was able to publish about the collection and also organize an exhibition here in Corning.”
Spillman has been an active force in the museum field and the historical glass community throughout her career. She serves as the editor of The Glass Club Bulletin. She is actively involved in the Association Internationale du Histoire du Verre (AIHV). From 1989 to 1993, she served on the board of curators committee of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), and has remained an active member of AAM.
In 1999, she was part of a group responsible for getting the United States Postal Service to create stamps commemorating American glass. The 33-cent stamps were dedicated at the Museum.
Energetic and curious, Spillman is a world traveler. She grew up traveling and is a life-long travel bug. Spillman led Museum Member tours in the 1980s and 1990s to Europe, and actively travels internationally. She says, “Travel is an important way to learn and it’s been fascinating to see new places.”
Upon retirement, Spillman plans to continue traveling while staying connected to the world of glass. She expects to give a lecture at the 2015 AIHV conference.
Spillman says she is most proud of the work she’s done acquiring objects for the collection and making friends for the Museum. And, she’d recommend a life-long career in museums. “I think a museum career is perfect if you like history and/or art. I’m lucky to have worked in a place with such high standards. I’ve been very lucky that I chose a career that I’ve really enjoyed.”