Classically Cameo

Today’s post comes from Explainer Sara Hart

At the Corning Museum of Glass, there are many beautiful glass pieces created through a variety of processes. Today I am going to focus on a technique known as cameo glass.

Cameo is the process in which the gaffer, or glassblower, gathers some colored glass and begins to shape a vessel. He or she will dip the gather into a second color (some vessels have even more than that) and shape the piece into its final form. Then the glass is annealed. Finally, to get the designs on the glass one can either use acid-etching, cutting, or engraving. A common technique for finishing the piece is engraving, in which the engraver will use either a copper wheel or a diamond wheel to grind glass away slowly and carefully.

Cameo glass is a luxurious form of glass that was, in fact, invented by the Romans, and years later revived by both Great Britain and America in the 19th century. The Museum has numerous cameo glass vessels each with its own beauty and story behind it, but here I am just going to discuss two: Moorish Bathers and The Great Tazza.

Moorish Bathers, George Woodall, England, Amblecote, 1898. Cased glass, carved. H: 1.7 cm, Diam (max): 46.3 cm.  (92.2.10, Bequest of Juliette K. Rakow. From The Cameo Glass Collection of Leonard S. Rakow and Juliette K. Rakow)

Moorish Bathers, George Woodall, England, Amblecote, 1898. Cased glass, carved. H: 1.7 cm, Diam (max): 46.3 cm. (92.2.10, Bequest of Juliette K. Rakow. From The Cameo Glass Collection of Leonard S. Rakow and Juliette K. Rakow)

The Moorish Bathers is an extraordinary example of cameo glass. It was made in the late 1800s in Great Britain, by one of the greatest of all English cameo glass carvers, George Woodall. This plaque was started around 1890 and finished in 1898. This piece displays seven female figures; it is so detailed that the woman featured in the middle has eye lashes, toe nails, and her relief elbow actually casts a shadow. The most common colors to use for cameo are blue for the base and white for the second layer; however, for the Moorish Bathers, Woodall decided to use a plum color for the base. It is easy to see why George Woodall called the Moorish Bathers his masterpiece during an interview.

The Great Tazza, George Woodall, England, Amblecote, about 1889-1895. Cased glass, carved. H: 38.9 cm; Bowl Diam: 48.7 cm. (92.2.8, Bequest of Juliette K. Rakow. From The Cameo Glass Collection of Leonard S. Rakow and Juliette K. Rakow)

The Great Tazza, George Woodall, England, Amblecote, about 1889-1895. Cased glass, carved. H: 38.9 cm; Bowl Diam: 48.7 cm. (92.2.8, Bequest of Juliette K. Rakow. From The Cameo Glass Collection of Leonard S. Rakow and Juliette K. Rakow)

The Great Tazza was a cameo piece that was also made by George Woodall, who worked for the firm of Thomas Webb & Sons. For this piece instead of engraving it like Woodall did for the Moorish Bathers, he carved it, and carving simply means to remove the surface of an object by means of hand held tools, or sandblasting. The vessel itself is a very dark green, even though it looks black.When you shine a light through the piece, the light reveals the piece’s true color. As for the outer layers, this piece contains red, white, and green. When Woodall carved away at the vessel, the colors underneath were revealed, until he was left with this incredible cameo floral motif. On display along with The Great Tazza is a picture of George Woodall and his team in their workshop, showing them working on this piece.  A Museum docent suggested that the photo she had seen during a docent meeting should be displayed adjacent to the piece in the gallery, so now everyone who comes to visit the Museum can see George Woodall and his team in action.

The Woodall Team

The Woodall Team

No matter the size, shape, when, or where they were made, cameo objects, without a doubt, are works of art. The Corning Museum of Glass has many more cameo glass objects throughout the galleries. To learn more about the pieces in this blog, check out the Museum’s website at www.cmog.org. And if you are ever driving through Corning, make a visit to CMOG and explore the galleries.

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CMoG Teens are the Museum’s teen volunteers, Junior Scientists, Explainers, Junior Curators, and Teen Leadership Council (TLC). You’ll find them at the Museum during the summer providing hands-on experiences and answering questions about glass and glassmaking, and during the school year learning about the science and art of glass.

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  1. Dear Explainer,
    I think something you said about cameos may not be entirely correct. When you gather a second color the layer usually is too thick for cutting. Most cameo blanks are made by either blowing into a cup of the second color, wrapping a bubble of the second color around the bubble of the initial color( known in the US as the “Swedish overlay” used for Graal) or the Czech method of jamming a very thin bubble over the initial bubble and breaking off the waste glass. I can’t say for certain that straight gathering was never used , but as a glassblower I think it unlikely.

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