Virtual Journeys into our Collection: Thoughts from a Glassmaker

This recurring blog series will feature virtual gallery walks with staff members from The Corning Museum of Glass. Everyone at our Museum interacts with the collection in different ways depending on the job they do and the perspective they bring. Hear from fascinating people and learn about their favorite objects as they provide a virtual peek at some of the treasures in our collection—and make plans to come see them in person when we reopen! This first comes from Eric Meek, senior manager of hot glass programs.

Eric Meek

One of the great things about being a glassmaker is the opportunity to live with beautiful objects. Over the years I have made many things that I chose to keep around because they turn out particularly well or are especially beautiful. As time passes, however, they take on a new life.

The intensity of glassmaking demands that you are fully present in the creative moment. Because of this, the things I’ve made over the years have come to represent that moment when they were made. When I look at them, I see not only the beauty of the object, but I reflect on that time and how I have evolved and changed since. My aesthetic has changed, my family has changed, my skills and world view have changed, but the glass is the same. That piece can take me back just like a cherished family photo.

At The Corning Museum of Glass, I work around the best collection of glass in the world. The objects aren’t mine, but I can’t help but view them with that “creative moment” in mind. I could never make a list of favorite objects from the Museum collection, but I would like to share a few that I connect with and that always speak to me when I see them.

The Gunnar Birkets building opened in 1980.

The Birkerts Building

The 200-inch disc from the Corning archives.

The very vessel that contains much of the collection always impresses me. Gunnar Birkerts created a building to house the Museum collection in 1980 which he called “both free-flowing and amorphous.” An ode to the material we love, this building is perfectly suited to our place and purpose. It is a joy to walk into work every day and see the seasons reflected in its form.

200-inch disk (99.4.91)

Almost a piece of architecture in itself, the 200-inch Pyrex mirror blank is the first thing I take guests to see. So much has been said about this object, but one could simply say that this piece sums up the best of Corning. A huge achievement of know-how, engineering, and perseverance, it makes me proud to be part of the story of glass in Corning.

Ionic Structure of Glass, Dominick Labino (80.4.30)

Dominick Labino was a glass research scientist and was a key part of the groundbreaking 1962 glass workshop at The Toledo Museum of Art. He contributed so much to the glass industry, including technology used in the Gemini missions to the moon. Frustrated by the hurdles of business, Labino started using glass as an art form to express himself. This installation is a beautiful representation of an artist who has a scientist’s understanding of the material.

Ennion Ewer (59.1.76)

When asked years ago to pick a favorite piece from the museum, I selected this little ewer. What I love about this piece is that while it is at least 2,000 years old, there are few glassmakers today who could match the refinement of its execution. When I look at this piece, I imagine the self-assured confidence the glassmaker must have possessed to create it. I marvel at the generations of makers since, how much has changed and how much is the same.

Engraved Portrait Plaque, Dominik Biemann (65.3.68) and Dominik Biemann, Jiří Harcuba (2009.4.89)

I must admit, I never noticed this little plaque until it was pointed out to me by Jiří Harcuba, a gifted engraver and instructor who frequently taught at The Studio, including a class I attended in 2001. Jiří, who was from the Czech Republic, passed away in 2013, but he brought engraving to a whole new generation of artists. This plaque is a masterwork, and while it is impressive to behold it represents a level of mastery that may never be attained again. Jiří encouraged his students to be gestural and expressive in their work at the lathe and not intimidated by the precision of perfection. His portrait of Biemann contrasted with Biemann’s work itself shows how both approaches can be successful.

Nymph in a Crescent Moon, Frederick Engelbert Kny, (89.2.17)

Kny’s Nymph in a Crescent Moon.

Another collection at The Corning Museum of Glass that always draws my attention is the British cameo engraved glass of the late 1800s. While we have many amazing larger cameo works, I am always drawn to this smaller dish. The sweet nature of the imagery defies the object’s technical perfection. Having kids myself, I envy the joy and amazement with which they view the world, a feeling captured beautifully in this piece.

Wendell Castle’s Pitcher and 3 Martini Glass Prototypes.

Pitcher and 3 Martini Glass Prototypes, Wendell Castle (GL022)

One of the highlights of my career was working with the legendary American furniture artist Wendell Castle. As part of our GlassLab program, we worked with many great designers, but few were able to infuse a material new to them (glass) with as much of their own style as Castle.

Space resonates regardless of our presence (Wednesday), Olafur Eliasson (2017.3.16)

A special privilege of working at The Corning Museum of Glass is living with so many beautiful objects. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to view these objects through the lens of a maker, but sometimes I try to step back. I try to distill the essence of the material that makes it so appealing to me and to so many others. I feel like the artist today who best works in that realm of materiality is Olafur Eliasson. We are lucky to have acquired this piece in 2017 and I am inspired by its power every time I walk by.

Olafur Eliasson’s Space Resonates Regardless of our Presence (Wednesday).

These are a few of my favorites today, from a constantly rotating mix of the treasures to be found at The Corning Museum of Glass. I hope this inspires you to imagine the people, place, and time behind the objects you cherish, too.

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