The Wood-Fired Furnace is Roaring!

Summer is heating up and so is our new wood-fired furnace!

One of curator Katherine Larson’s primary goals for the exhibition Dig Deeper: Discovering an Ancient Glass Workshop was to bring the practice of ancient glassblowing to life for Museum visitors by creating a world around the bits of debris, fragments, and factory waste which archaeologists found at the site of Jalame, Israel. To do that, Larson collaborated with members of the Hot Glass Team and several experts from around the world, to design, build, and document a wood-fired furnace—modeled on an ancient Roman design—that can actually be used to blow glass.

An early version of the wood-fired furnace gets a test firing.

The wood-fired furnace took several months to build and required participation from colleagues across the organization. Now you have the opportunity to see the furnace in action during unique demonstrations every Thursday throughout July and August. A prototype furnace will also be on view in Dig Deeper’s companion exhibit Get Stoked! Fueling Furnaces from Wood to Sun located in the Innovation Gallery, where you can learn about other furnace designs and fuel stories over time.

Below, some key contributors share their experience of building the Museum’s first wood-fired furnace.

Katherine Larson, Curator of Ancient Glass:

“Our team has learned so much about ancient glassblowing by planning, building, firing, and blowing glass at the furnace—for instance, the importance of communication between the gaffer and the stoker, to ensure the furnace is at the correct temperature for what the gaffer is doing. These sorts of details really help us understand and appreciate the experience and skills of the Jalame glassblowers.”

The fire inside a wood-fired furnace is very different to the furnaces our glassblowers are used to today.

Eric Meek, Senior Manager, Hot Glass Programs:

“It’s always been a dream of ours to make a purpose-built furnace to form glass with wood heat. This exhibition presented the perfect opportunity. The first challenge was convincing everyone else that it would be a worthwhile pursuit. Another challenge was, of course, making it. I had a strong sense that doing it ourselves would reveal secrets and inform our understanding of ancient glass (and it has)!”

Jesse Rasid, Hot Glass Programs Senior Technician:

“It was really interesting how many little idiosyncratic processes we had to learn to be able to reach the temperatures that we needed to blow glass and stay there. It really depends on how often you feed the furnace, the direction you laid the wood into the furnace, how you have the bricks that let the air into the furnace, what size the wood is that you’re putting into the furnace, and how much of an ash bed you have inside the bottom of the furnace. All of those things were huge factors in reaching and holding temperature. It made me realize that the fire stoker was almost as important as the Glassblower!”

Amanda Sterling, Former Social Media and Photography Specialist:

“This collaboration is a great example of the magic we can accomplish at the Museum. When we shared a teaser from this project on social media, our audiences were so excited to see what we’ll do with the furnace, and I share their excitement too!”

Jeff Mack, Manager, Hot Glass Programs and Projects:

“I have really enjoyed my experience with the wood-fired glass furnace. Overseeing the build process for this unique and ancient tool was a positive challenge and an intensive process, and I couldn’t be prouder of the team who fabricated the furnace. Having the opportunity to melt and form glass with nothing more than a wood fire was an experience I will cherish as a glassmaker. I can’t wait to do it again!”

Jeff Mack (left) and Chris Rochelle demo with the wood-fired furnace during the opening festivities for Dig Deeper: Discovering an Ancient Glass Workshop.

Troy Smythe, Manager, Interpretation Strategy and Education Projects:

“The methods of ancient glassworkers were rarely recorded. Often, what we understand about how ancient glass came to be comes from archeologists’ findings. But reconstructing an ancient wood-fired glass furnace can make those findings even more meaningful. Remaking ancient pieces using historic means not only leaves us with similarly shaped objects, but also with extra materials that would have normally been discarded and forgotten during the process. Even before glass is blown, bringing the reconstructed furnace to the temperature necessary to form the pieces using the fuel available in ancient times, wood, tells us something about the conditions and the challenges glassworkers faced.”

Tom Ryder, Technician Demonstrator:

“The greatest difference when firing the wood-burning furnace is the sound. There is a beautiful silence to it. All you can hear is the crackle of the wood burning. This lets you tune in to the activity of the furnace. A wood-burning furnace breathes. Being able to listen to the breath of the furnace is the best part of the whole operation for me.”

Catherine Ayers, Hot Glass Demonstrator Narrator:

“The challenge is blowing glass without the bench. There is a lot of muscle memory involved in the glassblowing process. So, blowing glass in our laps will require developing new muscle memory. It is interesting to think about and look at the pieces that the early Romans made because no one taught them these techniques. They are very difficult and challenging techniques that they came up with. All while working from a wood-fired furnace.”

Instead of a traditional glassblowers bench, Catherine Ayers uses a special board on her thigh to rest the punty on when she shapes glass out of the wood-fired furnace.

Brad Patocka, Video Producer:

“The wood-fired furnace presented many unique opportunities that required us to approach things differently. Aesthetically, it’s one of the most exciting things we’ve filmed. A rugged and cracked sort of structure, blackened and tan in color, spewing flames and smoke from all sides. Logistically glassmaking is always tough to film: it’s fast, and angles are always a challenge. The wood-fired furnace exaggerated this aspect even more due to the fact that its temperature was always fluctuating.”

Mark Taylor and David Hill, “The Glassmakers” – historic Roman glassblowers based in the United Kingdom:

“We are very happy that The Corning Museum of Glass has built a wood-fired furnace to experiment, learn more about ancient techniques of glassmaking, and bring greater awareness of this early style of working to a wider audience. We little imagined, when we built our first such furnaces in 2005, that it would inspire many other versions all over the world, a journey of re-discovery into how glass may have been made in the ancient past, using the most basic materials and tools. David Whitehouse described our first furnaces as ‘an eye-opener’, and we are sure that he would have been delighted to see these important experiments continuing and developing at CMoG.”

The Museum’s Courtyard Hot Shop has become a new home to the wood-fired furnace for demonstrations this summer.

So, join us to for brand-new glassblowing demonstrations that will take you even deeper into the world of ancient glassmaking. 

  • Beginning June 26, the Dig Deeper Demo, inspired by the exhibit Dig Deeper: Discovering an Ancient Glass Workshop, is a live, narrated demonstration that will take place daily in our Amphitheater Hot Shop at 4 pm. In this demo, you’ll hear a video introduction from Katherine Larson, curator of ancient glass, before watching our glassblowers use ancient glassblowing techniques to design and create modern-day art. 
  • From July 6–August 31, experience the process of ancient glassmaking for yourself with the Wood-Fired Furnace Demo, every Thursdays from 3–6 pm at the Courtyard Hot Shop. Watch as the Hot Glass Team stoke the furnace flames to over 2000° F to melt and blow glass. See ancient glassblowing techniques and tools in action during this fully narrated demonstration. Can’t make it to the Museum on a Thursday? Check out one of our livestreamed demos on July 6 and July 20.
  • These Thursday demonstrations will be accompanied by complimentary beverage tasting from local wineries and breweries. A ‘Taste of Time’ will host a different local partner each week to provide beverage tastings from 4:30–6 pm. Up first is Scale House Brewery from Hector, NY. Tastings will be free with the cost of Museum admission. Proof of age 21 and over required.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: