Amy J. Hughes, PhD, joined The Corning Museum of Glass as assistant curator in October 2022. In her role, Amy assists in the exhibition planning, research, and maintenance of the Museum’s collections. She is also the curator of the current exhibition Local Color: Secrets of Steuben Glass on view through January 7, 2023.
Since joining the Curatorial team last fall, Amy has been quite busy—but still found the time to sit down with us to reveal more about her background, glass research, and role as the Museum’s newest assistant curator.
Amy’s research explores affect as a political strategy in modernist glass and monumental sculpture in postwar Communist Central Europe. She spent seven years in Prague, Czech Republic, immersed in archival research, analysis, and oral history interviews for her groundbreaking dissertation, “Refracted Trauma: Dissent, Memory, and Affective Politics in Stanislav Libenský’s and Jaroslava Brychtová’s Public Glass Sculptures in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1968-1975,” which explores intersections between dissent, trauma, and modernism in the artists’ monumental public glass sculpture made in the early 1970s.
Amy’s work has garnered support from prestigious national fellowships and grants, including the Fulbright, Dedalus, Mellon-Wisconsin, and FLAS Fellowships, the Czech Academy of Sciences, along with CMoG’s own Rakow Grant for Glass Research.
Join us in getting to know Amy Hughes.
Finding a focus on art, activism, and history
“I’ve loved glass since I was a child, admiring colored glass bottles collections of my relatives, but my professional path to glass actually began with studying the political writings of 20th-century dissidents, including Václav Havel, Adam Michnik, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which sparked my initial interest in Central Europe. Teaching French art history and civilization courses in Paris after college afforded the opportunity to travel throughout Central Europe and I was mesmerized by the extraordinary art, design, and architecture, which led to the decision to pursue my MA in design history at the Bard Graduate Center with a focus on Central Europe.
“While at the Bard Graduate Center, a seminar paper I wrote on Czechoslovakian pavilions at postwar World’s Fairs exposed me to two things that were extremely influential in directing my focus to glass. The first was the extraordinary postwar monumental glass sculptures made in Czechoslovakia and presented at postwar fairs. The glass displayed in all the Czechoslovakian pavilions—architectural glass, large-scale works and small vessels—pushed the boundaries of glass in unprecedented ways. Works including René Roubíček’s Glass, Matter, Form, Expression; Jan Kotík’s Sun, Water, Air; and Stanislav Libenský’s and Jaroslava Brychtová’s Zoomorphic Stones were not only simply stunning, they were technical feats and also reflected the complexities of the political and artistic climate of their time—and made deep and lasting impressions on me.”
“My other key influence was discovering CMoG’s 2005 landmark exhibition and accompanying catalog Design in an Age of Adversity: Czech Glass, 1945-1980, which, in addition to showcasing an array of extraordinary postwar glass, highlighted connections between Czechoslovakian glass, its political climate and the fact that the perception of glass as being purely decorative enabled glass to become an oasis of creativity in Communist Czechoslovakia.
“These works sparked the realization that studying 20th-century Central European glass provided a path that would allow me to weave together my interests in Central European political history, the arts and social activism—and I was hooked! I pursued my PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, immersing myself in art and glass history, as well as Central European history and dissent studies. In many ways, my dissertation research examining intersections between dissent, trauma, and modernism in Libenský and Brychtová’s monumental public glass sculptures made in the aftermath of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia builds on that very seminar and CMoG exhibition and catalog, so I have first-hand knowledge of how life-changing these types of artistic encounters can be!”
Receiving the Rakow Grant for Glass Research
“The Rakow Grant for Glass Research is one of the most, if not the most, prestigious international grants specifically for glass research. Receiving the Rakow Grant in 2019 was deeply gratifying in its support of my project’s aim to deeply engage and be in dialogue with not only disciplines of modernist art history and Central European political history, but also fields usually not associated with glass, such as dissent studies, affect theories and memory studies.
“My work in the Rakow archives benefited greatly from the rich archival collections developed over the last several decades. Photos of in situ works in Central Europe were invaluable, as many public monumental glass sculptures made by now famous artists, including Brychtová and Libenský, Václav Cigler, Jan Fišar, and František Vizner among others, were destroyed in the years after the fall of Communism because they were (and still are, to many citizens) viewed solely as painful remnants of the Communist regime and empty of any artistic merit. Viewing works of art—not only glass, but also paintings and drawings from a variety of artists—was absolutely exhilarating and helped contextualize the works about which I was writing. Likewise, recordings and writings I was able to access not only helped enrich my dissertation, but also helped outline future research projects.”
Curating Local Color: Secrets of Steuben Glass
“The first step in the exhibition process was familiarizing myself with the Museum’s collection of Steuben’s works from the early 20th century—which are in the thousands!—to learn about the many types of glass made in this period. The artistic director, Frederick Carder, was a prolific designer, creating a plethora of forms in over 100 colors —some so popular that the names of particular glass colors he created can now be found on street names in Corning, such as Intarsia Lane and Tyrian Lane. I had just moved to Corning from the Czech Republic when I began working on this exhibition and so, in addition to researching the glass, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about Corning’s history through researching Steuben’s history and meeting local experts.”
“A goal of mine for the project was to find and highlight lesser-known narratives about and people connected to these works. Conducting archival research in the Rakow’s extensive archives on Frederick Carder and Steuben was a critical component of designing the exhibition. We are so fortunate to have such an amazing archival collection at the Rakow and librarians with such detailed knowledge of collection materials.”
Conducting Research and Examining the Archives
“The wealth of old photographs of the factory, glass workers, recipe and design notebooks helped shape the exhibition to spotlight Carder, as well as the lesser-known community of European immigrant expert glassworkers, local artisans, and women that helped make a dazzling variety of glass and forms in the early 20th century. I’m really pleased we incorporated so many photographs of individual glassmakers, women, and the factory, as well as design notes into the exhibition, as I think they help to contextualize and humanize the objects in wonderful ways.
“Working with the archives also illustrated gaps in our archival knowledge. Bringing attention to these gaps, such as the lack of information on the roles women and people of color played at Steuben, allows us to demonstrate how archives aren’t neutral—that they reflect biases of the time in the act of determining what was and was not important to collect and whose narratives were and weren’t deemed important to document based on cultural sentiments and practices. Unearthing questions repressed by or omitted in the archive directs us to new avenues of study to expand the archive and the stories it holds—and this enables us to conduct reparative work in the archive by diversifying the histories we convey and communities we engage with.”
“David S. Danaher, Barbara J. Falk, and Delia Popescu are well-known scholars in the field of dissent studies and Central European history, who are editing an upcoming volume publication entitled, You Say You Want a Revolution? Lessons from East Central Europe in 1989 (forthcoming 2025), as well as a symposium, which examines lessons contemporary societies can learn from the fall of Communism. I was asked to contribute a chapter for the book’s section on art—and of course, my text will focus on glass! The chapter examines the ways in which Libenský and Brychtová’s monumental glass sculptures from the early 1970s engage with and manipulate formalist language and material properties of glass to both reveal and conceal feelings not publicly tolerated concerning their experiences of living in the early years of normalization. It is extremely gratifying to have my research acknowledged not only by glass scholars, but also by prominent scholars in dissent studies and Central European history and to participate in platforms that will expose glass to new audiences and, as we say here at the Museum, ‘Inspire people to see glass in a new light!’
“In winter 2024, I will present at the College of Art Association’s annual conference—the nation’s principal organization for professionals in the visual arts—on an expansion of the topic described above, which will include monumental public artworks by other Czechoslovakian glass artists, as well as artists working in other media.
“This year, I was invited to write the foreword for the 2023 Stanislav Libenský Award. Established in 2009 to support and celebrate young glass artists from around the world, the Stanislav Libenský Award is considered one of the most prestigious European juried international awards of its kind. It is an honor to be involved and my essay focuses on conversations I had with Jaroslava Brychtová while living and completing my PhD in Prague. This year the awards ceremony will be held at the Prague Castle on September 5, 2023, with the exhibition running from September 6 – 23.
“Apart from projects relating to Czechoslovakian glass, I was invited to give a guest lecture at New York University this year that will focus on color, design, and the works featured in our exhibition Local Color: Secrets of Steuben. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to showcase the Museum’s extraordinary collection of works designed by Frederick Carder for Steuben Glass Works!”
On September 21, Amy Hughes will be presenting a special Ennion Happy Hour when she will discuss her findings on Jaroslava Brychtová and Stanislav Libenský’s piece Contacts III.
“Contacts III is among the works situated at the beginning of what Jaroslava Brychtová considered their third and most favored period of their life oeuvre,” said Amy. “I’m excited to not only discuss how this work artistically and technically marks this period, but also to share my research that contextualizes this work within the political, cultural, and personal climate of the time.”
Visit our website to learn more about this exclusive experience, other upcoming Ennion events, and how to join the Ennion community.
Learn more about Amy and other new members of the Curatorial team in our blog post from January 2023.