Glassmaker from Herat, Afghanistan, visits Corning

The Museum recently hosted a very special guest, Ustad Nasrullah, a glassmaker from Herat, Afghanistan. He, along with The Galleria Kabul Founder Rameen Javid, visited the Museum as part of a U.S. tour, funded in part by a grant through the International Folk Art Alliance in Santa Fe, NM, and New Market Development in Kabul, Afghanistan. The visit was an exciting opportunity for the exchange of glassmaking knowledge, and took us back to the very roots of the art form.

This was not the first time the Museum had worked with someone from the area. In fact, Dr. Robert Brill, the Museum’s Research Scientist Emeritus, helped create the 1977 documentary, Glassmakers of Herat, featuring Mr. Nasrullah’s family. They well may be the last glassmakers on earth making glass in the “old method.”

As the film footage shot in 1977 shows, Mr. Nasrullah sits on the ground right at the mouth of the furnace when he works. He uses raw materials collected from the riverbed and desert. His tools are handmade and less than a meter in length, the blowpipe fashioned from the barrel of a gun.

During his trip, his first outside of Afghanistan, Mr. Nasrullah had a chance to work with Bill Gudenrath, the resident advisor of The Studio, and together they blended their knowledge and technique to create glass.

“Everything must have felt utterly foreign to him,” Gudenrath said, whose work station at The Studio is set up in a contemporary Venetian style. Gudenrath made several pieces, even incorporating Mr. Nasrullah’s raw materials to add color. Although Gudenrath encouraged Mr. Nasrullah to “have a go at it,” he was hesitant at first to do more than watch.

“Somehow, though, spontaneously we began working together, sharing tasks,” Gudenrath said. “I would gather and marver, he would take over for the blowing. I executed the transfer to the punty, he opened the vessel and then decorated it with hot trails of glass freshly gathered by himself. Let me tell you, that was a magical moment—suddenly, we were in Afghanistan, it seemed. It was certainly an experience of a lifetime for me, and it was clear he enjoyed it, too.”

Mr. Nasrullah later met with Dr. Brill, whom he remembered seeing as a child during the documentary filming. They watched the film together, reminisced about the experience, and discussed the state of glassmaking in Herat today. Since his last visit to Herat in 1993, Dr. Brill had tried many times to contact the family, but had been unsuccessful, so he and many other Museum staff members were excited to learn the rest of the story.

Dr. Marvin Bolt, curator of science & technology, told Mr. Nasrullah that it was an honor to spend time with him. “This is one of the most fascinating things many of us have done in our careers,” he said. “You are connecting us with the traditional ways of a process that has been going on for 2,000 years.”

It is the hope that Mr. Nasrullah will be able to incorporate some of what he learned in the U.S. at his home kiln in Herat.

Watch the Glassmakers of Herat video:

9 comments » Write a comment

  1. This is so thrilling. When I became a docent 10 years ago, we had the original film on a loop in the galleries. I’ve watched it many times, often with school tours, wondering about the fate of these glassmakers. Welcome to CMOG Mr. Nasrullah!

  2. I hurried past a store window in Peshawar full of frothy blue glass many years ago; I was sure it came from Herat as did the many carpets around it.

  3. Very impressive film and story! I would like to find out more about Mr. Nasrullah’s today story and life, about how his family managed to survive the revolution, war and the whole unrest in his country until nowadays.
    I bet Bill Gudenrath had quite an experience working together with this man and sharing the different experiences they have and enjoying being still alike: two glass-makers living both in the XXI century, using so different methods and experience of glass working, but still being able to work together and enjoying their time… I’d wish so be there and see this. Thank you for posting it!

  4. Very impressive film and story! I would like to find out more about
    Mr. Nasrullah’s today story and life, about how his family managed to
    survive the revolution, war and the whole unrest in his country until
    nowadays. I bet Bill Gudenrath had quite an experience working together with this man and sharing
    the different experiences they have and enjoying being still alike: two
    glass-makers living both in the XXI century, using so different methods
    and experience of glass working, but still being able to work together
    and enjoying their time… I’d wish so be there and see this. Thank you
    for posting it!

  5. Thank you to the Corning Museum for a very warm reception. Seeing all the curators of the museum in one place honoring the glassmaker of Herat, Ustad Nasrullah, was really touching and a red carpet welcome for the work Nasruallh is carrying from father to son, 3000 years. Nasrullah sends his glass everywhere, including Peshawar. His family is the only family who makes glass in whole of Afghanistan.

    My organization, The Galleria, an independent arts and crafts center based in Kabul is proud to have sponsored Mr. Nasrullah’s trip to the US in July 2014. We will have the honor to come back again in July 2015 to the US and if possible would love to visit Corning once again.

    Just to give you folks an idea of what we have to do to safeguard the arts and the culture of Afghanistan, The Galleria is housed inside a compound, with high walls lined by barbed wire, security camera, 24 hour armed guards, steel gates, blast box at the door, anti-blast film on windows, a safe-room and escape route to the neighbors, just in case we get attacked. All of this we do to be subtle and not attract attention to ourselves. If we had it the way of some UN agencies who wanted machine guns mounted on sand bags posted inside the compound inside foxhole facing the main entrance, we would be more like a military zone than an arts gallery. So you understand the challenges we face even if not attacked. 

    It is a tough business being an artist, but tougher to be an artist in Afghanistan. We commend the artists for their bravery and sense of responsibility to keep the art of Afghanistan alive.

    Best,

    Rameen Javid
    The Galleria

  6. rameen javid 
    AssalamoAlaekum Javid,

    I am from Corning area. We will love to have a Muslim connection to glassmaking showcased in this part of the world. This will promote understanding and help end hatred. Please contact me at:

    leftmain@yahoo.com 
    607-857-7947 (mobile)

    Najeeb Rehman, MD

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