Curiosities of Glassmaking
For this “curious” exhibition, The Corning Museum of Glass dug into its vast collections to showcase more than a hundred wonderfully odd and mysterious objects fashioned of glass, dating from antiquity to the present day.
Ancient amulets to ward away evil, trick drinking glasses, an optical model of the human eye, and variously tinted, tortoiseshell rimmed lens worn by Victorian tourists to frame suitably artistic views of nature – these were among the odd objects in Curiosities of Glassmaking.
Curiosities of Glassmaking, organized by modern glass curator Tina Oldknow, invited visitors to consider how glass has been used to mimic nature, to examine its mystical and scientific uses over the centuries, and to explore its use by industry to produce an array of everyday items - some quite peculiar and others inspired.
The exhibition title refers to a popular 19th-century manual, Curiosities of Glass Making (1849), published in London by the well-known glassmaker Apsley Pellatt. The impulse to collect and display curiosities is both timeless and universal, and American art institutions such as the Corning Museum have evolved in part from the European tradition of the cabinet of curiosities, which juxtaposes odd, intriguing, and unusual objects, often including archaeological artifacts, geological specimens, and exotic trophy animals.
Among the objects on display were examples of apotropaic glass (glass used to deflect evil), including ancient and modern eye beads, Japanese magatama amulets (curved beads often found inhumed in mounded graves as offering to deities), and witch balls. Popular in 18th-and 19th-century English and American homes, witch balls were often filled with %%bits%% of string and other things meant to confuse and repel witches.
Other sections of the exhibition looked at unusual vessels made throughout history, glass that imitates other materials like semi-precious %%stones%% and textiles, and glass that naturally occurs in nature. Examples of glass made in nature included fulgurites (glass made when lightning strikes %%sand%%) and tektites (glass from meteorite impacts) and a sample of trinitite, a glass made during the test explosion of the atomic bomb in White %%Sands%%, NM, in 1945.