CELEBRATING 25: What Makes Glass So Captivating?

In 1997, The Corning Museum of Glass introduced a new attraction: The Hot Glass Show. It was an instant hit and quickly expanded beyond the original 90-seat theater hovering over the Steuben Glass Factory. In the past 25 years, the Museum has taken hot glass around the world—very literally—and to mark this special anniversary, we talked with some of our Hot Glass Team members.

This is part one of a three-part blog series. In this blog, we’ll meet some of the current members of the Hot Glass Team and learn what they think makes glass so captivating.

Eric Meek. Photo by David Leyes

Eric Meek, Sr. Manager of Hot Glass Programs, hired in March 2005
“The process of glassmaking is beautiful and a bit mysterious, it’s unlike anything most people encounter day-to-day. When you combine that with a narrator who speaks passionately about the process from the maker’s perspective, that’s when the magic really happens. That human connection to an ancient process is the key to success.”

Eric Goldschmidt.

Eric Goldschmidt, Flameworking and Properties of Glass Supervisor, first hired in March 2003
“Working with molten glass is a very dynamic thing, and the inherent and apparent risks of what we do—the danger factor—is compelling as well. People see the fire and the hot materials and it’s a fascinating thing. Also, what could be more interesting than seeing a 2000-degree blob come out of an oven, then watching a skilled craftsperson turn that blob into something amazing within just minutes right in front of your eyes? It’s the closest thing to a magic show that you’re going to see in a live format like this.”

Jeff Mack. Photo by David Leyes

Jeff Mack, Manager of Hot Glass Programs & Projects, hired in November 2015
“I think what makes our demos so captivating for audiences is the same thing that has made it captivating for audiences for all of history. When the Corning Glass Works opened up here in 1868, they had problems because so many people wanted to come in and watch the glassmakers working. And the Museum really works with that problem. Our gaffers are so well trained and well versed in making these demonstrations special for our guests—we’ve got lots of tricks up our sleeves because we know what people like to see and what they want to learn about. We have our collection and knowledge about glass and we’re able to convey the message better than anyone else who demonstrates glass. Our team sets the benchmark in the field for how it should be done.”

Catherine Ayers. Photo by David Leyes

Catherine Ayers, Hot Glass Demonstrator, first hired in December 2011
“I think a lot of people like to see people doing what they do no matter what it is: bottling beer, painting, etc. They like to see what’s happening. When you have such an active process with the heat, it’s fascinating to watch. We could be making a windchime and somebody would want to watch us. It’s what got me attracted to glass, and I wanted to try it for the first time after seeing it. It’s just such a captivating process.”

Caitlin Hyde. Photo by David Leyes

Caitlin Hyde, Properties of Glass Demonstrator, hired in June 2011
“Molten glass and fire, light and movement, beauty, passion, and fine craft…these are the experiences that inspire us as glassmakers and that we get to share with the visitors.”

George Kennard. Photo by David Leyes

George Kennard, Hot Glass Programs and Mobile Hot Shop Team Leader, hired in July 2001
“For me, I’ve learned over the years what people like to see—you can just hear it. If we do something exciting, you can hear it in the crowd. So, we can pick and choose pieces that people are going to remember and talk about the next time they come.”

Chris Rochelle. Photo by David Leyes

Chris Rochelle, Hot Glass Projects Team Leader, hired in March 2010
“Everybody’s familiar with glass as a rigid material, whether it’s drinkware or windows, etc. But when they come to the Museum, if they haven’t seen the artistic process, it’s mesmerizing. There’s so much that they don’t know about it: it’s glowing, it’s moving, it’s almost like it has a life of its own as it’s being formed. You take glassmakers who have a lot of skill, and they can turn it into something beautiful in 15-20 minutes. That speaks for itself, really. Every moment of the demonstration, something really cool is happening with glass, whether it’s stretching, spinning open, ruffling—there are ‘wow’ moments. It’s ingrained in the show.”

Tom Ryder. Photo by David Leyes

Tom Ryder, Technician Demonstrator, first hired in January 2011
“It’s hard to say one thing that makes it so captivating, but it has to be the dynamic nature of hot glass and how exciting it is. Glassblowing grabs people’s attention like a campfire grabs your attention. The warmth, the glow—it brings people in. And it’s something people have never seen, which is fantastic. One of the things I’ve always found really interesting is how people remember the Hot Glass Show for the rest of their life.”

Helen Tegeler. Photo by David Leyes

Helen Tegeler, Hot Glass Demonstrator, first hired in January 2011
“Our fabulous team is so amazing at presenting what we’re doing. When people think of glass, they think of so many things that are stagnant, they don’t think of glass as having this life, this breath, and this movement. Even wandering the Museum, they don’t quite understand how that object came to be. As soon as you show them the liquid version—you gather it out and show them how it moves, and you show them how it inflates—it starts to put all these pieces together that connect in no other way to no other material. It’s something that so few people get an opportunity to see. There’s this enamored connection that’s created through the artistry of glass, the ballet dance of the performative aspect of what we do, and it wraps up everything from curiosity and entertainment to artistic freedom. To see the audience really engage with that is the best part of our jobs.”

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