Gaffer’s Day Off

What does a glassblower do on their day off? Go look at glass!

On a cold day this January, a group of Gaffers from the Corning Museum of Glass Demonstration Team made the trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to see the fantastic temporary exhibit Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa. Joining in on the trip were Don Pierce, George Kennard, Eric Meek, Lewis Olson, Carl Siglin and Chris Rochelle.

Left to right: Carl, George, Lewis, Eric and Don at the Met.

Left to right: Carl, George, Lewis, Eric and Don at the Met.

On the way to see the work of Scarpa, we took time to look at some highlights in the permanent collection of the Met. Surrounded by treasures from all ages and around world, it was fun to observe these craftsmen move from case to case picking out the glass tucked among ceramic, metal and stone relics from the same era.

Lewis and George discuss an artwork

Lewis and George discuss an artwork

Seeing these objects among other decorative arts from the same time was a treat. Similarities in form of objects made in different materials gave us clues to the status and importance of glass at the time.

Discussion over techniques and methods employed by these early glassmakers also linked the group to past. I think we all imagined what it must have been like in those primitive glass shops. This certainly made the beauty and finesse of these early works all the more amazing to me.

We made our way to the Scarpa exhibit where we spent a few hours admiring the subtle beauty of his work. The show highlights fifteen years of design from Scarpa’s time at the famous Murano glass manufacture Venini. With an amazing diversity of ideas over this short period, each of the gaffers seemed to be drawn to a different group. When four of us converged on one case and discussed how the piece may have been made, it might come as a surprise that there were four opinions. This curiosity will, I’m sure, result in some experiments in the hot shop.

On the way out, we had some time to swing through the painting galleries. We had our fix of glass and were excited to see something different. Of course, what should we discover but this painting “Glassblowers of Murano” by Charles Frederick Ulrich from 1886. At The Corning Museum of Glass the job of our gaffers is not just to make glass, but to share our passion for making with our guests. It was nice to see at the end of our tour that fascination with the process is perhaps as enduring as the objects themselves.

Glass Blowers of Murano, Charles Frederick Ulrich (1858-1908), 1886. Oil on wood. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (86.13)

Glass Blowers of Murano, Charles Frederick Ulrich (1858-1908), 1886. Oil on wood. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (86.13)

The team that went on this trip has over 140 years of combined experience. Even in a profession as challenging and creative as glassmaking, it’s easy to become static, to do what you know. At the end of our day at the Met we all left feeling inspired and invigorated. We were ready to head back into the shop and create our own enduring designs and leave lasting impressions on our visitors of this beautiful ancient process.