A Guest in the Hot Shop: Artist Elaine K. Ng Joins Museum Glassblowers

Glassblowing is often about collaboration. About working together to discover what’s possible. The Hot Glass Team at The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) embodies that practice. Every day, the glassblowers unite their collective skills to create masterworks in glass to the delight of our guests.

Elaine K. Ng

When guest artists are invited to the Museum to work with the Hot Glass Team, the unknown can create a challenging and exciting new outcome, especially when the artist is not familiar with glass. In November 2021, Elaine K. Ng was the latest in a long line of guest collaborators to join our team of gaffers, and as always, the experience was eye-opening for everyone involved.

Elaine K. Ng is a multidisciplinary artist whose work explores the physical and psychological structures of site. She recently had two installations on view at The Rockwell Museum: a circle, a line, an arc and Fingerprints of Place – Taiwan. Although Ng uses all manner of materials including found objects, glass has not been a primary resource until now, and so her time with glassblowers was a first for her.

With time to reflect on her experience, we asked Elaine K. Ng what it was like working in the Hot Shop.

Ng organizes glass cane into a pattern.

Elaine, what ideas or thoughts did you have before starting your collaboration with CMoG?

I was both excited and intimidated by this residency when Eric Meek (senior manager of Hot Glass Programs at The Corning Museum of Glass) first told me about it. Aside from being a complete newbie with hot glass, I also don’t usually have specific, fully formed ideas about pieces to make. Nor am I someone who sketches on paper to communicate ideas, so I really wasn’t sure how this would work. Helen Tegeler (hot glass demonstrator/narrator) and I had some preliminary email discussions about my ideas and what was possible, and she guided me towards some material information for research. Helen and I also had a Zoom meeting with Chris Rochelle (hot glass projects team leader) where they helped me understand timing so I could plan how to approach my time there. Actually, the most encouraging thing they said to me was that I could have the option to use my time for experimentation and just play around with the material if I wanted. For me, that was really what I needed to hear to feel freer with how I used my time. My studio practice usually involves a lot of material experimentation, so this felt like permission to work in a way that was natural for me.

What did you learn about glass along the way and how did that knowledge shape your own process in the moment?

“My learning curve was huge since I pretty much started from zero. I tried to educate myself before I got there (I watched a LOT of CMoG videos! – see the Museum’s YouTube channel), but of course, seeing and handling the material for the first time is completely different from thinking about it theoretically. The first day I felt like a deer in headlights—there was so much new information to process and figure out how to blend with my own ideas. My mind was spinning with new things to explore, so it was an exercise in discipline to stay focused on an idea long enough to test variables and hopefully see it through to something interesting.

“Things happened pretty organically—we basically set up experiments and built off of what came out. I knew I wanted to play with thin lines, and after trying a few things where the lines didn’t feel thin enough for me, we ended up doing multiple pulls of canes to get thin strands of color, about 20-30 in one cane. I loved seeing the process of hot glass getting stretched out into long, molten ropes. When we put pieces of cane on the surface of a bubble and stretched it out, I noticed you could still see the circular tube opening at the end of the canes, and I became interested in the dimensionality of all these colored lines encased in clear glass.

“From this point, I started playing with color in different arrangements and pairing them with background colors so that some lines would show up easily and others would blend into the background but produce shadows due to the way they were sandwiched within the clear glass. I guess my work always plays with this push-pull of what is obviously visible and what needs more careful notice.

“In one of the early pieces, air bubbles got trapped by the shape of the canes and how they were picked up. I found this interesting, so Helen and Chris figured out how it was happening, and we ended up playing with capturing bubbles as part of the pattern. The pieces we made at the end of the third day (the ones in the live stream) incorporated all the elements we experimented with—lots of thin lines, color and shadow play, and interesting bubble patterns.”

What was it like to work with the Museum’s gaffers?

Ng (center) discusses ideas with Helen Tegeler while Chris Rochelle forms a new piece.

“It was unlike anything I’d done before, and I loved it. It was fascinating to watch Helen, Chris, and the whole team work together. Of course, their skill with glass is impressive, but they were also great at listening and helping me to communicate my thoughts in order to work with the material. I was amazed at the amount of progress in the work over those three days, and I’m sure this was due in large part to the collaborative nature of the residency. When I’m working on my own, thoughts travel between my hands and my brain in ways I don’t always understand enough to talk about. Working with other people, I had to process and verbalize things much faster. My thoughts were constantly shifting, and sometimes I even heard myself change direction while I was talking to Helen and Chris about what I wanted to do next! They were so good at following my morphing thoughts and making things happen—I think it was a big part of why the residency felt so fruitful.”

Do you envisage glass in your future work?

“It’s hard to say right now. I’m still looking at the work that came out and thinking about how it fits into my practice. It’s always exciting to work with a new material, but the newness also makes it harder to figure out how to pursue things. I could see myself exploring more of what I did at CMoG and following those ideas further with glass, but I know my nature is also to translate ideas across materials. I hope both things can happen.”

Watch Elaine K. Ng’s recorded livestream.

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