Three kiln-formed glass panels commissioned in memory of glass artist Nancy Gerbasi have been installed in The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass. Nancy was a tour guide* at the Museum while she lived in Corning and she was among the first to take classes at the Museum’s new Studio. We are delighted that Nancy’s family enlisted Sheryl Ellinwood to create these panels in her memory.
Sheryl Ellinwood’s “Graphique” wall panels are collages of images, text, pattern, and color. Sheryl was inspired by images and text from the Rakow Research Library’s Blaschka archive. Leopold Blaschka (1822-1895) and his son Rudolf (1857-1939) created Harvard’s collection of glass flowers as well as glass models of sea creatures that are found in university collections around the world. The Library’s extensive collection of their invertebrate and botanical drawings and fragments of their correspondence provided images that Sheryl used to create delicate patterns, layers of meaning, and a connection to the natural world.
Nancy met Sheryl while sharing a kiln in Toledo, Ohio. They collaborated on fused glass sculptures and won the Stautzenberger College Glass Award at the 67th Annual Exhibition of Toledo Area Artists at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1985. When their prize-winning sculpture was vandalized, the two used the fragments to create a new piece – the start of their “Inner Vessel Series.” Their story was published in Professional Stained Glass in April 1988.
Nancy Gerbasi loved glass: making glass, learning about its history, and sharing her knowledge with others. Her fascination with glass started early; watching and working with her father as he created stained glass panels and kaleidoscopes.
Nancy Gerbasi never stopped learning and “reinventing herself.” Nancy moved to Corning from Toledo in the 1980s and she was determined to become a Corning Museum of Glass tour guide. The Museum did not offer a training program that year, so she spent hours in the Rakow Research Library reading and watching tour guide training videos. She especially enjoyed explaining the history of glassmaking techniques to Museum visitors. Meanwhile, she built a studio in her basement and began a fused glass jewelry business. Her colorful pins, earrings, and necklaces were sold at the Museum shop, at a local dress shop (where they matched her jewelry to outfits) and to friends. Each season she created a new line, incorporating new techniques. When she became interested in bead making, she taught herself with a Hot Head torch and Cindy Jenkins’ book, Making Glass Beads. She took workshops from Albinus Elskus, Gil Reynolds, and Kristina Logan at a time when glassmaking classes were difficult to find. She organized a bead exhibit at the International Society of Glass Beadmaker’s first Corning conference. She also passed her techniques on to others. I made my first stained glass lamp and fused glass jewelry with Nancy’s guidance.
Nancy and her husband, Dr. Anthony (Bud) Gerbasi, retired to Aiken, South Carolina in 2002. She became known as the “Bead Lady,” and continued to create sophisticated beads and work them into fine jewelry. The Aiken Center for the Arts honored her work at its Spring Show.
In 2010, she told me “… in my old age, I have reinvented myself!” She became involved with the Aiken SPCA and their education in the schools program, fulfilling a lifelong love of animals. She found it rewarding and “the children appreciate the efforts.”
The three tiled wall panels hang in the Rakow Research Library reading room and conference room. They remind us of Nancy, her love of glass, and how important volunteers are to our Library and Museum. We are grateful to Nancy’s family for this memorial gift.
*(before we changed the program to “docents”)
Sheryl Ellinwood, age 55, passed away February 26, 2015.
In 1994 after earning her MFA in glass and sculpture, Sheryl Ellinwood established Ellinwood Studios in Pella, Iowa. Sheryl was “recognized for originality of design and commitment to quality.” Her work received many awards, including the Labino Glass Award from the Toledo Museum of Art and the Glass Art Society’s Award for Excellence. Sheryl created jewelry and home décor that was sold in shops and galleries across the country. Her mixed-media sculptures and commissioned wall panels are in many galleries and in corporate, public, and private collections.
Sheryl Ellinwood was also the author of Empowered: A Woman to Woman Guide to Preventing and Surviving Breast Cancer, which was named an award finalist by the Midwest Independent Publishers Association. The book documents information about breast cancer and the decisions that she faced after diagnosis.
The Library’s sculptural panels are a wonderful tribute to both Nancy and Sheryl.
The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9am to 5pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.