Favorite Things: Tattoo Vase by Kiki Smith

Today’s post comes from Marie McKee, the Museum’s president since 1998, and formerly president of Steuben Glass. Marie will retire at the end of this month, so we share this story about a work in the collection that has special meaning for her.

Tattoo Vase, designed by Kiki Smith for Steuben Glass, with the assistance of Max Erlacher (engraver), Corning, NY, 2008.4.79. Gift of the artist and Steuben Glass.

Tattoo Vase, designed by Kiki Smith for Steuben Glass, with the assistance of Max Erlacher (engraver), Corning, NY, 2008.4.79. Gift of the artist and Steuben Glass.

As the past president of Steuben Glass and as president of The Corning Museum of Glass for the last 16 years, I have spent a lot of time around artists and designers. I love learning about and from them—what inspires them, what they are thinking, who they are as people.

The Museum has an amazing collection and it’s very hard to pick just one favorite, but I especially like the Tattoo Vase by Kiki Smith, which Kiki designed for Steuben in 2008. It is classic Steuben with a twist and there exist only five copies of the work.

I have a very personal connection to this piece, because I had the privilege of working with Kiki on it. I got to know her through visits to her studio and through time spent together in design sessions.

Kiki loves to observe nature and weave that into her work. She had a strong interest in body art and tattoos, which was a topic I hadn’t thought deeply about before. Onto this vase, she has engraved, or “tattooed,” many natural objects that are used as body art, such as a snake, a butterfly, and a rose.

Tattoo Vase embodies many of the things that make Steuben pieces great. The shape is an iconic vase shape, the glass is the beautiful clear crystal for which Steuben is known, and the engraving is classic Steuben, so deep in some places and skillfully done. Kiki worked with Steuben engraver Max Erlacher, who is enormously talented, to accomplish this work. I feel proud of the teamwork and effort that it represents.

This stunning vase will be displayed among many amazing works in our new contemporary design gallery, and I truly look forward to visiting it in March when the new North Wing opens.

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