Cars and glass have long been a good fit. The evolution of glass windshields and other glassy elements inside and outside the car has helped make travel on our roads safer and more enjoyable. But a glass art installation at a car dealership was something new, even for us.
So, when local business owners Don and Robin Ferrario came to The Corning Museum of Glass in January 2018 to meet with Eric Meek, senior manager of hot glass programs, and I, about an idea they had for a new showroom just down the road, it was the start of a great partnership.
I had heard ads on the radio, so I knew who Don Ferrario was, but my family was new to the area and we didn’t yet know the local lore. I was pleased to find out that behind the image of this successful business with a reputation built on expert automotive sales and service, there was also an active, artistic, and philanthropic couple who are well known as supporters of musical and visual arts in the region.
They said their endeavor was to be a car dealership and service center like no other, and that it would showcase their passion for the arts and finding connections with the local community. Along with a number of landscape murals painted by late artist Martha Robertshaw, that had been recovered and preserved from a property slated for demolition on the site of the dealership, the Ferrario’s wanted to feature artistic glass capable of connecting their story with that of the art and industry of the Museum and the region.
Serendipitously, in 2018, the Museum was looking for partners to help sponsor the GlassBarge project, and the Ferrario’s were a perfect fit. An agreement was struck whereby Ferrario would provide a fleet of vehicles allowing the CMoG team to drive the length of New York State and back in support of GlassBarge, and in return the Museum’s Hot Glass Demo Team would design and make a one-of-a-kind glass installation guaranteed to wow everyone entering the doors of the Ferrario’s future showroom.
In the months that followed, both teams met to discuss the artistic vision of Don and Robin Ferrario, and how the Museum’s glassblowers could mold those ideas into a tangible end product. But this was not to be as simple as vases on a pedestal. We were to consider the use of the walls and ceiling as well as other architectural elements. Luckily, this was not our team’s first project like this. In 2017, we completed a monumental architectural piece for the Southern Tier Welcome Center near the Pennsylvania border on I-81 northbound. This earlier experience gave us the confidence necessary to undertake a project of this scale.
The Ferrario’s wanted the design to incorporate the region’s natural beauty, to complement the other artworks within the dealership, such as the murals, and inspire a sense of adventure akin to driving a brand-new truck. Experiencing the many wonders of New York State up close throughout the GlassBarge tour, our team of glassblowers was already brimming with ideas. Ultimately, the Ferrario’s settled on a concept by glassblower Carl Siglin, which was called The Adventure Trail.
Carl’s design called for overhead glass elements that represented a country road traversing a rushing stream. The winding curve of the road would be overlaid with what would look like freshly laid tire tracks with tread patterns resembling that of the tires on the trucks sold in the space below. The color would be important because a key feature of nature in the Southern Tier region of New York is the changing hues of the seasons. The curving road could be a journey through nature in color and form over the year. Maple, birch, oak, ash, leaves, and snowflakes—all the shapes and colors that whisk by your window as you drive down the road would be included.
These were the images we were left with for the next stage of our team’s involvement: to develop the various glass components to bring these images to life in a three-dimensional space. We also needed to work very closely with the dealership’s engineers to ensure our glass components could be effectively and safely suspended over the showroom.
Very quickly, various components began taking shape. Colored roundels, optic snowflakes, textured leaves, rocks, and watery waves with ripples were rolling off the gaffer’s bench. Our team was producing prototypes, testing colors, and experimenting with texture and process. Before and after scheduled demos, our gaffers were cleverly fitting in the creation of the many necessary components, and sharing the story of this special partnership with curious visitors.
The creative energy being poured into this project was inspiring and the team was excited to see the composition coming together in a workspace below the Amphitheater Hot Shop. By March of 2020, we were just about halfway there with nearly half of the final 470 components finished. But then COVID-19 struck, causing a three-month shutdown of the Museum, and the near full-stop of the Ferrario construction project. Our furnaces were shut off and our team had to shift focus.
Working from home, our team was now engrossed in planning new ways of working, new protocols for operation, and developing new approaches to programming as well as figuring out how to make blown glass with masks on.
But, by July we were back on track and making glass again. The momentum quickly picked back up for component development and production. By the fall, the entire composition was near completion. The components were arranged in the workshop just as they would be in their new home, while Carl and the team recorded the location of each onto a full-scale grid that matched the ceiling grid at the showroom. All glass components were then carefully labeled, packed, and delivered to the site.
Between December and January 2021, Carl and I guided and helped to supervise the final placement of each component, working with contractors from the dealership construction project team. A black anodized aluminum tire track was added to the multicolored glass roadway, providing the final touch. Custom lighting now serves to illuminate each colored piece of glass and brings a good sparkle to the finished installation.
The Ferrario’s original goal, to create a unique dealership that engages with the community through art and local history, combined with their unwavering support of the GlassBarge, provided an excellent example of the exponential opportunities that can be created when the synergies of two ambitious projects converge creatively. There is a beauty in watching these things unfold over time and working like this is most certainly a path to achieving full potential and traveling down a real-life adventure trail.
The new Ferrario dealership in Big Flats, NY, is now open and the glass installation created by the talented Hot Glass Demo Team at The Corning Museum of Glass is on view. Don and Robin Ferrario encourage you to stop by and see it, even if you’re not in the market for a new vehicle.