Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library

Bandhu Scott Dunham wanted to be a mad scientist or an alchemist as a kid. Although he’s grown up to be a glass artist, he still manages to infuse many of his pieces with a sense of magic and whimsy. His series of kinetic sculptures, he says, represents “the colorful, magical mysteries that captivated my childhood self.”

During one of his visits to the Rakow Research Library, Dunham came across another group of artists meshing science, mechanics, and art. Itinerant glassworkers traveled around the world entertaining and educating audiences with flameworking demos, intricate glass models, and even scientific experiments. Dunham was particularly inspired by the working glass steam engines built by many troupes in the 1800s, and he used advertisements and images from the Library’s collection to inform the construction and appearance of his own glass engines. The results demonstrate how libraries can inspire people in all sorts of ways.

The Rakow Library is filled to the brim with information on glass and glassmaking. A cornerstone of the Museum’s campus, the Library is open to everyone, and offers guests a chance to learn more about every glass topic imaginable. The shelves are full of the expected and the surprising, often leading visitors like Bandhu Dunham in new directions.

Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library, on view April 8, 2017, through February 17, 2019, offers guests a taste of what they can find if they venture up the Library’s glass staircase to the reading room. From a patent for preserving the dead in glass to a trilogy of romance novels chronicling the generations of a glassmaking family, the exhibition unites many disparate materials from the Library and glass collections through themes of curiosity and inspiration.

Curiosities from the Collection
This book has a secret. You may not notice when you pick it up, or flip through it. But when the pages are angled just right – surprise! A hidden painting is revealed.

Fore-edge painting

The botanic garden: a poem, in two parts is the only book in the Library’s collection with a fore-edge painting. This special feature is just what it sounds like: an original work of art painted on the edges of a book’s pages. The fore-edge painting featured here is a landscape scene of Kew Bridge leading into London’s Botanical Garden. But why is this book of poetry in our collection? Because it includes several engravings of the Portland Vase, an ancient Roman cameo glass vessel.

During the 1600s and 1700s, artists like Martin Engelbrecht and Nicolas de Larmessin printed engravings of tradespeople wearing the tools and products of their trade. The Rakow Library’s prints collection includes a number of these images, which illustrate male and female glassmakers and peddlers clothed in bottles, leaded glass windows, molds, bellows, and more. These fanciful designs served to show people the items associated with glassmaking.

Inspired by the Collection
Like all libraries, the Rakow Library is an incubator where all types of creativity can flourish. Bandhu Dunham found his inspiration in a collection of photographs and advertisements; Greg Merkel, a scientist and glass collector, was inspired by a set of notebooks in the archives. He collects works designed by artist Frederick Carder for Steuben Glass in Corning, New York. Carder was a prolific designer who left behind many notebooks filled with recipes for colors and types of glass. However, it can be difficult to pair a written recipe with a finished piece of glass.

Merkel, who is interested in both the beauty and chemical composition of Carder’s glass, decided to research the creation and development of each color, and definitively match pieces of glass to their corresponding recipes. As part of this work, he created a database of the recipes from the notebooks in the Rakow Library. He then used XRF (X-ray fluorescence) technology to scan pieces of glass for their composition. By doing so, he is able to connect the glass to a particular recipe. His work has led to the correct identification of many pieces of Carder’s glass, and benefits those who study and collect them.

These are just a few of the stories in Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library. Come see the rest, and find your own inspiration on the Library’s shelves.

New content will be added to the exhibition every three months. Make sure to stop back into the Rakow frequently to see what’s changed!

Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library is on view at Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass April 8, 2017, through February 17, 2019. Learn more about the exhibition.

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