At the Crossroads of Art, History, and Technology
by Debbie Tarsitano
The Glass Art Society held its 31st Annual Conference, At the Crossroads of Art, History, and Technology, June 13-17, 2001, in Corning, New York.
Corning, New York, is home of The Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG), which houses the world's premier glass collection -- over 35,000 pieces spanning 3,500 years. Appropriately dubbed "The Crystal City", Corning was the perfect location for the four days of glass art demonstrations, lectures, and other events the conference provided.
G. A. S. at Corning was the first Glass Art Society conference I have attended from beginning to end. I did not know quite what to expect and because I did not know many other members of G.A.S, I thought there might not be anyone to talk to at the Corning meeting. Was I wrong!!
When I arrived in Corning, my first encounter with members in the registration area was so friendly. That friendliness set the tone for the rest of my memorable time in Corning. The GAS conference far exceeded all of my expectations.
The first night I attended the special benefit dinner at the Corning headquarters. It was an elegant event with a tour of Corning, Inc.’s private collection, which is not normally open to the public. Then we had a fantastic multi-course dinner with at least five types of local wine and champagne. It really was delightful and well worth the donation.
Everyone was so welcoming that it invited random conversations. It was really fun to meet and talk with other glass artists constantly. The atmosphere was of friendly interaction and mutual respect for each other as artists.
In my wildest dreams I could have never have imagined what I saw in the glass fashion show organized by Laura Donefer. As an intro to the show, Nicola Mainville and another musician from Canada dressed in native garb and beat out exotic rhythms on glass drums they had made. That musical opening set the tone for the rest of the evening – the fashion show.
The Corning Museum’s largest room was hyper-charged with excitement and color during the fashion show. The artists created unbelievable, incredible, provocative, wearable sparkling glass fashions. Ten-year-old Ana Donefer-Hickie emerged onto the stage, wearing an outfit made out of mirrors sparkling to the tune of 2001 Space Oddesy. The energy in the room was tremendous and every one was clapping, screaming and having a fantastic experience. I could not get over Dinah Hulet’s original design of an “itsy bitsy teeny weenie murrini bikini” with matching sunglasses hat and shoes. It was amazing. At the show’s end the whole crowd joined in to chant “The Glass Blowers Rap by Blow Daddy” (words and music copyrighted by Clark Guettel) from words printed on a handout: “Heat it on up. Melt it on down. Heat it on up. Melt it on down.”
The after hours parties were so much fun. One event that was a smash was the walking tour of Market Street galleries and shops. The tour offered tasting of wines from over a dozen local wineries. To participate in the event, we were given a hand blown wine glass made by glass art students. Each glass had the date of the conference etched on its base. After the wine walk, we proceeded to the Corning footbridge alive with imaginative light sculptures from one side of the Chemung River to the other.
I really enjoyed experiencing glimpses of other glass artist’s lives and work through talks I heard. In his lecture, Milon Townsend demonstrated how he creates his art and the team process involved. It was commendable, the way he credited the people who work with him at his studio.
Josh Simpson spoke about his work, his Worlds project, and his studio and then turned the podium over to his wife Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut who has been on two shuttle missions. Coleman talked about how their life together combines her science and his glass art to provide a new worldview, literally.
I have visited Corning many times previously and have heard the name Thomas Buechner on many occasions. However, I didn’t know much about him until the informative and heart-felt personal speech by Erwin Eisch on the life of Thomas Buechner.
The Goblet Grab was another experience unlike any I have had before. It was so much fun lining up at the starting line, eyeing my intended goblet to grab, and then having to make a split second decision when my first pick was snapped up before I could grab it. When I arrived home, I found the goblet I had grabbed was a perfect match to an antique lamp I own. It now sits next to the lamp in my family room as a reminder of the fun we had at G. A. S. in Corning. It is also nice to know the money the Goblet Grab raised goes to help glass artists in need.
The many and varied technical displays added another interesting dimension to the G.A.S conference. The venders had everything an artist could need (and some things I didn’t know I needed!). I found them to be helpful and informative without being pushy. They were happy to explain their products, introduce you to others who used their products and generally help you whether you bought or just looked. I saw a lot of new equipment that would improve my studio and am buying a new kiln I saw at the conference.
Every event seemed to end with something special. After the fashion show, they had food and music. At the end of the technical display, there was an ice cream social. After the Goblet Grab, a student art show was held. After the auction was a huge party at the local ice skating rink with many buffet tables, delicious food, and a band.
The people running the Glass Art Society are so gracious. I participated in the murrini project by making a paperweight with a G. A. S. commemorative murrini and donating it to the fundraising auction. The G. A. S. staffer who accepted my donation thanked me several times.
My husband, who came to G. A. S. with me, is an expert in the quality management field and often attends or speaks at conferences. He said G. A. S. at Corning was the finest conference experience he has ever had, and it was not even in his field. The high level of concern for quality was experienced at every event. Expectations were met on all levels. Thank you to the staff at GAS and Scott Benefield as a great leader. The best compliment I could give to the Glass Art Society is that I am already planning to buy my ticket for Amsterdam. See you there.
This article was originally published in Glass Art magazine. For more information on Glass Art magazine, call (303) 791-8998.