About Making Ideas

Videos: 

GlassLab, a film by Deidi von Schaewen, 2012.  This film documents GlassLab design sessions at Design Miami, Miami, Florida, 2007--2008 and at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 2010--2011. (Run time: 48 minutes)

The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY
May 19, 2012–January 6, 2013

Curated by Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass, The Corning Museum of Glass
Exhibition design by Paul and Barbara Haigh, HAIGH Architects + Designers

Making Ideas: Experiments in Design at GlassLab is a unique exhibition that showcases the Museum’s signature design program, GlassLab, in which designers are invited to work with hot glass. The exhibition features over 150 design prototypes by nearly 50 international designers, and it centers on material and the activity of thinking and making. Making Ideas emphasizes the role of designers and the process of creation and collaboration using glass as a design material.

In exhibitions at the Museum, objects are generally assembled to shed light on a theme or on history. They are thoughtfully brought together (often traveling long distances) in order to tell a story that, without their aggregation, could not be told. Making Ideas, however, is another kind of exhibition, one in which objects play a secondary role. This exhibition is a window into an ongoing program, a glimpse of what is happening now.

Gaffer at work

Nearly 50 international designers participated in GlassLab between 2007 and 2011. All of the designers who worked on GlassLab are included in the exhibition with video documentation and/or design prototypes. Some designers, such as Sigga Heimis, Harry Allen, Michele Oka Doner, Arik Levy, Nacho Carbonell, Tim Dubitsky, and Constantin and Laurene Boym, have had more than one session at GlassLab. Others, such as Ted Muehling, Jeff Zimmerman, and Massimo Vignelli, have worked for glass companies such as Lobmeyr, Steuben, and Venini. Some of their designs, drawn from the Museum’s collection, have also been brought into the exhibition.

The concept of the exhibition space, designed by Paul and Barbara Haigh, is that of a designer’s loft—an open, white room.  The gallery is dominated by a large video projection of GlassLab sessions in the United States and Germany, shot and edited by Deidi von Schaewen.  More than 150 prototypes, or “sketches” in glass, made at different GlassLab sessions are shown in the exhibition.  The design prototypes are grouped thematically and arranged around the room’s periphery. Drawings and graphics offer further insight into the genesis and realization of ideas in glass.

The prototypes range from explorations of anatomy, such as Sigga Heimis’s organs of the body, to inspirations from the natural world, such as Michele Oka Doner’s seaweed bowls. Some designers, such as Olgoj Chorchoj (Michal Froněk and Jan Němeček), work with ideas about space and transparency, while Tim Dubitsky transforms two-dimensional graphic concepts into three dimensions. Constantin and Laurene Boym destroy glass by breaking and shattering it, while Wendell Castle considers the classic martini drinking set. Jeff Zimmerman and Paul Cocksedge examine process in different ways by immersing themselves in the performative nature of glassmaking. Most importantly, all of the designers have fun, and this is especially evident in the toylike creations of Nacho Carbonell and Sebastian Errazuriz, and the explosives of Stephen and William Ladd. Together, these typologies, or categories of investigation, build an expanded design vocabulary for glass.

Jeff Zimmerman performance at GlassLab

Instead of documenting the exhibition in a printed catalog, the Museum has developed a content-rich Web-based app that draws on the extensive and ongoing documentation of GlassLab by the Museum.  It provides information about the designers, process videos, and photographs of drawings, glassworking processes, and prototypes, as well as links to the designers’ Web sites. To emphasize the vitality and change that characterize GlassLab, new design prototypes made in sessions at the Museum during the summer of 2012 will be brought into the Making Ideas exhibition.

Presented in 2012 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of American studio glass, Making Ideas celebrates the spirit of freedom and experimentation with material and process that characterized the early years of the Studio Glass movement. At The Corning Museum of Glass, exhibitions honoring the history of studio glass in the United States and in Europe highlight individual artists. They are Founders of American Studio Glass: Harvey K. Littleton, Founders of American Studio Glass: Dominick Labino, and Masters of Studio Glass: Erwin Eisch.

What Is GlassLab?

GlassLab is a design program that is enabled by a mobile, ultralight glassblowing studio developed by The Corning Museum of Glass. The customized hot-glass studio and stage are housed and travel in a deluxe shipping container designed by Paul Haigh. GlassLab can be deployed in almost any urban or rural location. This means that designers do not need to come to Corning to participate in GlassLab: GlassLab goes to them. The ultralight equipment was developed as an extension of the Museum’s Hot Glass Roadshow, a tractor-trailer mobile studio on which Museum staff members offer public glassblowing demonstrations and education about glass at locations away from the Museum’s campus.

GlassLab at Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany

The idea of a mobile hot-glass studio is not new. In the 1970s, during the early years of the American Studio Glass movement, artists jury-rigged furnaces on the back of pickup trucks to demonstrate their craft at state fairs. At Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, glass program founder Bill Boysen developed a mobile glassblowing studio, nicknamed Aunt Gladys, which has traveled throughout the United States over the past 40 years. In the last decade, artists around the world have created several versions of mobile studios, which are housed in conveyances that range from horse trailers to barges.

The idea of a design program that utilizes a mobile glassblowing studio, however, is new. The GlassLab program, which is headed by Museum senior director, and former Steuben designer, Rob Cassetti, grew out of the Museum-sponsored “Liquid Fusion” workshops at the Domaine de Boisbuchet summer design retreat in southwestern France. This workshop to introduce design students to glass was conceived in 2006 by Paul Haigh, and it has been led over the past five years by Haigh and Museum glassblowers Steven Gibbs and Eric Meek. The Domaine de Boisbuchet is headed by the well-known German museum director, collector, and design historian Alexander von Vegesack.

Through the Museum’s partnership with Vegesack and Boisbuchet, GlassLab has traveled since 2007 to Design Miami in Miami, Florida, and to the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, during Art Basel, the prestigious international contemporary art fair. In 2008, GlassLab also traveled to New York City, where the Museum partnered with the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

At these venues, international designers have been invited to work on GlassLab, where, with the help of artist-glassblowers, they have the rare opportunity to develop concepts in glass. In public “design performances” and private workshops, designers and glassmakers collaborate, using the immediacy of hot glass as a catalyst for innovation through the rapid shaping of forms and through the exploration of the unique properties of glass.

Accessing Glass

Encouraging new design in glass means that the ways in which the material is traditionally accessed must be broadened. Historically, access to glass has been limited, unlike materials such as ceramic, bronze, wood, and stone. Melting and forming hot glass requires a high-heat furnace and complex technical skills that take years to acquire. Aside from assembling cut pieces of glass, as in stained glass, and sagging small forms inside a kiln, artists and designers have not had access to glass. Molten glass is traditionally found in the industrial environment of commercial glassworks, which are not open to outsiders who might want to experiment. A designer’s involvement with the material typically consists of submitting a series of drawings and then examining prototypes sent for approval. This kind of limited interaction gives the designer little idea of what the material is capable of doing and how it may be manipulated and developed.

Designer Sigga Heimis’ sketch with glass organs at GlassLab

Fifty years ago, the American ceramist Harvey K. Littleton teamed up with the glass research scientist Dominick Labino in Toledo, Ohio, to take molten glass out of the factory and into the studio. They wanted to introduce artists to the use of hot glass as a material for contemporary art, with an emphasis on the artist as designer and maker. Their efforts launched the American Studio Glass movement, a widespread community of artists working in and teaching about glass. 

For most American glassworks involved in the production of commercial tableware, the Studio Glass movement attracted little or no interest. Industrial designers traditionally do not work on the floor with factory glassmakers, so the process of manufacture is not necessarily part of the conceptualization of an idea. Although designers do not need to know how to make objects themselves, it is helpful to have knowledge of the process in order to better understand the material and to design innovatively for it. In the case of glass, a material about which so much is unknown, it becomes even more important for the designer to understand its properties through process. 

Because glass is a demanding material to form, designers in a glassworks are often promoted from within. Glass cutters and engravers, as well as professional glassblowers, are thought to know best how glass can, and cannot, be used. This practice, over the decades, has helped to create a relatively closed system, narrowing the field of vision for what might be possible and resulting in conservative and repetitive designs for glass. It was primarily the dissatisfaction with industrial design in glass that inspired Harvey Littleton to seek out and to develop other options for how glass might be used in the service of art and design. 

To encourage experimentation and innovation, certain companies hired outside artists, designers, and architects to make designs for glass. Vittorio Zecchin, Paolo Venini’s first artistic director, was a painter who developed new forms and colors for Venini in the 1920s. Across the Atlantic, at Steuben in New York City, artistic director John Gates worked with Henri Matisse in 1939 to develop a series of engraved bowls decorated with the work of contemporary painters, graphic designers, and sculptors. In the 1950s and 1960s, with the help of the American collector and gallerist Peggy Guggenheim, Egidio Costantini’s Fucina degli Angeli worked with such celebrated artists as Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst. 

Harvey Littleton and Dale Chihuly at Pilchuck, 1974

Studio glass artists also embraced the idea of bringing in outside artists to work with the material. In the 1960s, Littleton had focused on the notion of the artist/designer and the glassmaker as being the same person. By the late 1970s, the artist Dale Chihuly was inviting sculptors and painters to experiment with glass at the Rhode Island School of Design and at Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State, where he taught. His motivation was to keep the feeling of experimentation alive, to re-energize artists more technically skilled in making glass so that they could continue to push the boundaries of what the material might do. Chihuly explained that he did this in order to “have good artists in the school environment. You need somebody to ask different kinds of questions, to take you out of your own, set ways of thinking.”

The Pilchuck artist-in-residence model, which encouraged artists unfamiliar with glass to spend time experimenting with it, with the help of experienced artist-glassblowers, was adopted by university and arts programs throughout the United States. Today, such interaction between artists skilled at working with glass and artists who have no idea of how glass is made is common. Since the 1990s, the availability of glassmakers and studio facilities for hire has increased dramatically. Sculptors who have ideas for glass, but who do not want to spend years learning how to work the material, can use a glass studio like a bronze foundry. They can rent facilities and engage artists to work with them to produce blown, cast, hot-sculpted, and flameworked elements and objects in glass. Such increased access to glass has not been available to designers, however.

Throughout the 20th century, design for tableware and luxury glass was controlled by large glass companies. Yet, over the past decade, changes in the market and the economy have forced many glassworks to redirect their focus, to reinvent their products, or to close. For high-end glass design, a new direction in production and marketing is beginning to emerge. Designers, who may already have strong retail connections, are looking at alternative sources for manufacturing. For glass, these sources could include artist-glassblowers, whose studios are equipped to handle limited-edition production. 

A Program for Designers

GlassLab extends the concept of increasing access to glass from artists to designers, encouraging designers to design more innovatively for the material. Although design in glass goes back to antiquity, designing for glass remains a new frontier.

Over the past decade, the field of design has significantly broadened from industrial production to encompass art, craft, and the unique and limited-edition object. Technologically advanced ideas are presented alongside poetic interpretation. Intellect and spirit, machine and hand, social and individual awareness, and art and craft are being increasingly integrated to achieve a more holistic approach to design.  As sculptors and painters experimenting with glass have profoundly influenced the ways in which the material can be expressed in art, so may designers influence the ways in which we encounter glass every day. 

Students work in glass at Liquid Fusion at domaine de boisbuchet

One of the goals of GlassLab, and of Paul Haigh’s “Liquid Fusion” design workshop, is to inspire designers to rediscover glass by working with it in a molten state. Using the concept of glass as a liquid—and therefore a material that is ultimately mutable and versatile—Haigh encourages the investigation of “the ephemeral and sublime qualities of glass as a rich palette for innovation and intervention through the examination of glassmaking as an art form with pertinent methodologies for today’s design disciplines.” Haigh considers that “design, at an innovative level, often captures material and process in an attempt to bring poetics to the mundane.”

In both programs, the goal is not to design a “perfect” product but rather to offer the designer meaningful insights into the material. While art may be defined as “embodied meaning,” to quote the American critic Arthur Danto, design tends to be defined as “embodied function.” But meaning is also embodied in material, and it is GlassLab’s focus on material and process that aims to help the designer realize new forms, functions, and meanings for glass.  

Using the resources of GlassLab, designers have the opportunity to work with multiple glassforming processes. During public performances at museums and international art fairs, audiences can observe the dynamic interplay between designer and glassmaker, as well as the evolution of the objects they create. GlassLab is an unprecedented way for designers to discover the potential of glass through creative exploration and experimentation. It is an immersive and collaborative experience that is informed by the ever-changing and immediate nature of the material itself.

Watch GlassLab in Action

GlassLab design sessions will take place throughout the summer, both at the Museum and on the road. See all events