It’s been a hot summer for Corning Museum’s GlassLab

Gaffer Eric Meek and assistant Chris Rochelle breaking off the glass buoy envisioned by Peter Buchanan Smith, at GlassLab on Governors Island last month. photo: isabella webbe

The GlassLab initiative, The Corning Museum of Glass‘s hotshop outreach to the design world, recently wrapped up its blazingly hot month-long showcase on New York City’s Governors Island, an event organized in conjunction with the exhibition “Graphic Design—Now in Production” by the Cooper-Hewitt and the Walker Art Center. Every weekend in July 2012, the Corning crew fired up their ultra-light glassblowing studio in the service of a roster of designers ranging from the up-and-coming, such as recent RISD MFA grad Helen Lee, to some of the biggest names in graphic design, such as esteemed product- and packaging-design star Judy Smilow. After a detour to Nantucket, where the mobile hotshop was used by a range of artists and designer Ted Muehling blew glass as part of a Dane Gallery fundraiser, the crew has returned to Corning, New York, where they continue to host designers in the hot shop in conjunction with the exhibition “Making Ideas: Experiments in Design at GlassLab,” which runs through January 2013. “For our entire staff, we’ve seen innovative new ideas and designs, ideas that could very well influence the shape and design of the future especially with glass,” Steve Gibbs, hot glass programs manager at The Corning Museum told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet in a telephone interview. “There was something very special about working on Governors Island; the designers, and the glassmakers, when you get on the ferry, not only are you being physically transported to a small spit of land, but your mind and spirit is liberated in a peaceful calm environment.”

In the Summer 2012 issue of GLASS Quarterly‘s print edition (#127), Corning Museum director Tina Oldknow astutely pointed out that, “Historically, glass is a material to which access has been limited… Melting and forming hot glass requires a high-heat furnace and complex technical skills that take years to acquire.” The good news for designers without access to glassblowing tools and materials or glassblowing friends is, of course, GlassLab, which is the Museum’s ongoing effort to pool the talents of designers and glassblowers as well as expose the general public to the glassblowing process.

At a press preview for GlassLab at Governors Island a couple of weeks ago, temperatures onstage climbed up to 110 °F as glassblowers Eric Meek, Chris Rochelle, and Adam Holtzinger labored to execute designer Peter Buchanan Smith‘s idea for a glass buoy. Buchanan Smith’s design credits include a Vintage Books cover of a Raymond Carver book as well as the cover of Wilco’s “A Ghost Is Born.” His goal for the buoy was to achieve a balance between form and function, a design standard that he furthers via his Best Made Company. (Those in attendance noted the design’s similarity to that of Sigga Heimis’ “Guts,” which were made at the Vitra Design Museum GlassLab in 2010.)

Programs manager Steve Gibbs’ running commentary helped contribute toward an exciting and enlightening performance. Once an assistant had nestled the buoy to cool in the annealing oven there was one question on the audience’s mind: will it float?

“Maybe,” said Holtzinger, who was excited about working with Buchanan Smith, referring to him as a “grown-up boy scout” with a utilitarian design perspective.

Gibbs said that the crowd helped to name these glass buoys as “Bu-Eyes” for the way the maritime marker also resembled the human eye-ball. In that moment of interaction between designers, makers, and onlookers, Gibbs felt that the wonderful diversity of the New Yorkers drawn to the event had been unified and knitted together by the common interest in the hot-glass process as people were “brought together by their fascination with the design process and the material.”

–Isabella Webbe

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Filed under Design, Events, Exhibition, News

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