I should preface this next installment of my travelogue with a few remarks about WHY I made this trip and WHAT the heck the big deal about medieval glass is, anyway.
I have long been an enthusiastic student of medieval history. I didn't study it formally, as I have both of my degrees in speech pathology, but I have always loved the material culture of the period between 300 AD and oh, about 1600 AD. A huge span of time, to be sure, but there is something to really like in each identifiable period. I learned to make some of the clothes, did some medieval re-creation, and in particular, studied glassworking of the various times. Along about the time I learned to flamework, I began getting more and more interested in glassmaking and how people with FAR less technological and material knowledge than we have today could really do this type of stuff. I've been researching certain topics for years, finding out information and making some replica pieces, but I hadn't had a chance (or the resources) to really delve into it all. Then the Corning Museum announced it's Seminar on Glass with a medieval focus, and well, there was no way I *wasn't* going to go to that.
That's the basic, short version. :)
SO! On to Day Two, Dipped In History!
We arrived at the museum early in the morning, and of course I couldn't resist taking a couple of shots of the outside of the building.
It really is a beautiful piece of architecture, even if, like me, you are not a huge fan of contemporary design. We registered for our conferences and received conference badges on museum lanyards (squee!), and a huge folder of information and brochures about the conference and museum. There was a little time to kill before the seminars started, so we took some time to go through the GlassMarket and check out the amazing things for sale.
And of course, we could not miss seeing the world's largest glass pumpkin! It really is an impressive piece of glassblowing -- it's something like eight feet in diameter!The video for how they created it is here. If you understand anything about working with hot glass, you'll totally get why it is such a difficult task. Check out the guy in the flame-retardant suit who moves the piece to the kiln and puts the stem piece on once it's in there. HOT!
Our first lecture was an hour on what is currently known about the glasswork of the medieval period, complete with excellent slides of pertinent pieces. It was titled, "Glass and Glassmaking in the Middle Ages", and was presented by Dr. David Whitehouse, the executive director and curator of ancient glass for the museum. He is a fantastic speaker and possesses a huge depth and breadth of knowledge of glass. It was a fangirl's delight, really. I was so thrilled to be listening to a lecture by one of the most prominent scholars in this area. My notetaking skills were definitely tested, however, as I wrote and sketched at lightning speed to capture everything he said.
After a coffee and pastry break, our second lecture was provided by William Gudenrath, historical glassblower and adviser for the glassblowing school at Corning. He discussed glassblowing techniques in the context of actual medieval pieces that are in the museum's collection. What was mindblowing about this particular lecture was the videos he showed of himself actually reproducing museum pieces because he has spent time figuring out how the medieval work was made by experimenting in the hot shop. SO. Cool. Plus, he teaches in the Museum's glassblowing school periodically. I dream now of taking a class on period glassblowing methods with him someday.
If all of THAT weren't enough, after lunch, Kitty and I headed into the museum to see the exhibits, especially the newest one on medieval glass. I have been to the museum once before, but Kitty had never been, and really it's astonishing to someone with a deep love of history to be as close to some of these works as we were. I took about 200 pictures of items in the galleries, which I will post on Flickr this week, but here are some highlights:
A cast glass dress and evening shawl by American artist, Karen Lamonte.
The huge Dale Chihuly sculpture in the lobby of the museum. There are a couple of Chihuly pieces at Corning.
Roman amulets and beads. SO interesting to look at! And such amazing detail, given what they had to work with.
Roman glass vessel.
Medieval prunted glass beaker -- very common style during the medieval period.
Sixteenth century enameled glass. The detail on this is incredible!
There is so much more in this museum, I can't even begin to show it all to you, but this is a start, at least. After we were completely saturated with historical glass, we headed down to the hot shop to the Make Your own Glass studio, where we got to blow glass pumpkins. Both of us having hot glass experience, we hoped they would let us do at least some of the furnace parts -- dipping from the crucible, or doing some benchwork, but really we only just got to blow the glass. Still, it was unforgettable, and the closest I'd ever been to a glass furnace.
Our glassblower guy was Bryce. He was so much fun to work with!
(Sorry for the blurry picture; I had my flash turned off for the museum, and forgot to turn it back on.)
The pumpkins went into the kiln for annealing and we picked them up the next day.
Following the glassblowing, we went to the Rakow Research Library to do some work on finding sources for period glass. I started with a general overview of Roman glass, but quickly got sidetracked into Roman small objects, jewelry, beads, rings, and cameo glass.
Having never worked in a research library, I was overwhelmed by the opportunity to use some reference material I had only heard about. The librarians were more helpful than I have ever known a librarian to be, and actually asked us about our topics and went and found amterials and brought them to us. !!!!! And photocopying was free -- color AND black and white -- so we went nuts copying pages and pages of material we knew we'd almost never have another chance to get our hands on. It was amazing. A-maze-ing. I even had a question about something that the librarians could not find an answer for, so they offered to ask the museum's research scientist the next morning. And THAT gentleman didn't know definitively, so he referred me to someone else! I don't think I've ever known people to share their work so readily, especially with people, like us, who are not affiliated with an institution professionally or as a student.
While there, we met several other people doing research for their jobs in museums; one was an American woman living in Qatar who was planning an exhibit at her museum on ancient glass along the Silk Road. It was all so interesting and so very overwhelming; when we finally left the library when it closed at 7pm, we were drained, but in a really, really satisfying way. I was in heaven, truly.
That night for dinner, we found a wonderful local restaurant, Holmes Plate 54, in the Gaffer district in downtown Corning. The burgers were phenomenal and they had sweet potato fries that were truly to die for! Service was outstanding and so friendly (we met the owner, Kim Holmes, who seated us), and we loved the atmosphere so much, we went back Friday night too!
Friday was promising to be a very busy day again, with museum and lectures and library, and a side trip up to my alma mater, SUNY Geneseo!