Wednesday, September 21, 2011

History Through Glass

On my recent vacation to the Finger Lakes District in Upstate New York, I had the opportunity to spend a morning at the Corning Museum of Glass. In addition to beautiful artistic pieces, the Museum houses more than 45,000 pieces tracing 3,500 years of glassmaking history. After traveling through the galleries displaying glass of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Medieval and Renaissance Europe, I found my way to the glass objects from the Baroque to late Victorian periods. There were many examples of English lead glass and chalk glass, which were two improvements to glassmaking in the 17th century.

As I traveled along this timeline, I was fascinated to observe how society and culture across civilizations could be tracked by these artifacts. Early glassmakers used a variety of techniques to shape and decorate vessels, jewelry and sculptures. In the later periods, glass was used to make medallions, furniture, chandeliers and an even an entire mechanical glass theater!

From the Corning Museum Exhibits:

Beibly glass - "The Beilby family painted much of the colorless enameled glass that was made in England during and after the 1760s. William Beilby (1740-1819) and his sister Mary (1749-1797) enameled glasses wiht floral motifs, landscapes, and pictures of architectural ruins. The most famous of their glasses are goblets bearing the royal coats of arms. These goblets mark the birth of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) in 1762."

"Tea and coffee were imported into Europe in the ealry 1600s. They were first taken as medicines. Both beverages were usually served in porcelain or stoneware cups, but glass cups were sometimes used in the 18th century. Tea is still sipped from glasses in eastern Europe today. The Comte de Mirabeau, a French Revolutionary statesman, said, 'Tea and coffee have been more effective in containing the vice of drunkenness than all the teachings of the moralists and the learning of the Enlightenment.' "