The Corning Museum Of Glass is a special place where librarians, curators, artists, and educators all work together to share the history and craft of glass making. Rebecca Hopman’s series on her work at the CMOG’s Rakow Research Library is an excellent template for creating and sustaining the library-as-incubator. Enjoy! ~Erinn

unnamedThe Cycle of Creativity

by Rebecca Hopman

Soon after I joined the staff of the Rakow Research Library, my boss said something that’s stuck with me ever since: “Libraries preserve past conversations in anticipation of future creations.” I like to think of this as a cycle of creativity– new ideas and artworks build upon each other, like an ongoing conversation. I’m reminded of his words each time I interact with the many artists, authors, and other creators who make their way through our doors.

Libraries preserve past conversations in anticipation of future creations.

Mark Peiser is one of those artists. Peiser, who has worked with glass since the early days of the Studio Glass movement, came to Corning, NY in 1976. When he entered the Museum for the first time, he was struck by the appearance of the 200-inch disk– the failed first casting of a mirror made for the Hale Telescope in Mt. Palomar Observatory in 1934 (see the casting in this silent movie). Peiser described the experience in a talk at the Museum:

Then I entered the Glass Center and saw [the disk]. I was stunned. I felt myself enshrouded in ignorance. I stood there, gaping at the enormity of it.

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The original location of the disk created an overwhelming impact on arriving guests. The disk was set against a dark background covered in constellations. Courtesy of the Corning Incorporated Department of Archives & Records Management, Corning, NY.

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The 200-inch disk in its original location, c.1950s. Part of the Gert Boland Mack postcard collection (CMGL 139146). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Peiser would hold onto that feeling for more than three decades, searching for a way to recreate the colors of the glass and its honeycomb shapes. While at the Rakow Library, he researched the history of the disk, reading David Woodbury’s The Glass Giant of Palomar and exploring the archives of Dr. George McCauley, the Corning Glass Works physicist who supervised the casting of the 200-inch disk.

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Dr. McCauley and Dr. J. C. Hostetter standing in front of the 200-inch disk, 1935. Photograph by Ayers A. Stevens, Corning Glass Works, Corning, New York. Part of the George V. McCauley Archive (CMGL 116516). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

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Core design for the 200-inch disk, ca. 1930s. Part of the George V. McCauley Archive (CMGL 116544). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

When he finally started working on his Palomar series in 2007, Peiser based his designs on the original working drawings held in our collection. His inspiration was not just the disk, he said, but also “what it takes to expand the boundaries of glass.” He wanted to “recognize the existence and place of failure in that pursuit, to convey the wonder, awe, beauty and scale [he] experienced on first seeing the cast at Corning, . . . and to create a glass that not only transmits or reflects light, but which embodies it.” The Corning Museum of Glass owns the first piece in this series, Section One, Veils (2009).

Section One, Veils, from the Palomar Series, by Mark Peiser (2009. 2009.4.341). Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Section One, Veils, from the Palomar Series, by Mark Peiser (2009. 2009.4.341). Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Artist Bandhu Dunham’s kinetic sculptures are inspired by the whimsical creations of glassmaking troupes in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These men and women traveled around the world, entertaining audiences with their flameworking skills. To draw customers in, they created fantastical sculptures and machines and boasted of them in the manner of P.T. Barnum. As one handbill in our collection proclaims, their show is “by far the most instructive, entertaining, and cheap exhibition.” Audience members could watch the glassmaker at work and see such wonders as a coach with six horses, a hydraulic skeleton, glass spinning, and many other marvels “too numerous to insert in the limits of a Bill.”

Detail of Scott’s splendid glass working exhibition in miniature (now in motion!), 1830 (CMGL 138463). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Detail of Scott’s splendid glass working exhibition in miniature (now in motion!), 1830 (CMGL 138463). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Tintype showing a glass steam engine, possibly “The Fairy Queen,” on display, 1861 (CMGL 137821). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Tintype showing a glass steam engine, possibly “The Fairy Queen,” on display, 1861 (CMGL 137821). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Detail of broadside for Madame Nora’s original troupe of glassblowers, 1876? (CMGL 132079). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Detail of broadside for Madame Nora’s original troupe of glassblowers, 1876? (CMGL 132079). Courtesy of The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Dunham’s eye was caught by glass steam engines, which are possibly the most magnificent of the traveling troupes’ creations. After two brothers built the first engine, known as “The Fairy Queen,” other troupes followed with their own engines, among them the “Excelsior” and “General Garfield.” These were working machines, made up of hundreds of delicate pieces of glass. Dunham researched these steam engines at the Rakow Library, then started making his own machines, each one more intricate and complex than the last. He describes the evolution of his machines in this video from his website:

One of Dunham’s steam engines, “The Crystal Gem,” is now on display in The Studio, where artists taking classes and visitors trying their hand at glassblowing or flameworking can examine its delicate structure.

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Dunham’s The Crystal Gem in action.

These are only two of the many artists, authors, and other creators who have used research at the Rakow Library to inform and inspire their work.* Each time someone comes through our doors, the cycle of creativity begins again.

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*I would be remiss not to mention Laura and Erinn’s favorite example: Donna Baker’s series of romance novels, The Glassmakers Saga (including Crystal, Black Cameo, and Chalice). Baker spent time in the Rakow Library researching glassmaking for her novels, and of course we have copies of all three.

 

profilepic_hopmanRebecca Hopman is the Outreach Librarian at The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass. She has worked in a number of libraries and archives since 2005 and received her MLS from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. When she’s not at the library, you might find her embroidering, writing snail mail, or cheering on the Chicago Cubs. Follow her on tumblrextabulis.tumblr.com.

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