By Brian Jewell
Art comes in many different forms, but few captivate the imagination as immediately as glass.
What began as a utilitarian medium for making windows, housewares and other items has become one of the most popular expressions of modern art. From small paperweights to massive chandeliers, blown glass enchants art-lovers with its vibrant colors, transparent luster and otherworldly shapes.
Today’s glass-lovers can find plenty of places to admire the artwork. Glass museums around the country hold collections of works both historic and contemporary, showing the development of glassmaking in forms such as small figurines, large sculptures and even stained-glass windows.
Museum of Glass
Located in Dale Chihuly’s hometown, the Museum of Glass celebrates the American studio glass movement with a collection of works from 1960 to today.
The museum’s galleries feature a rotating series of exhibitions that highlight different themes in glassmaking. In addition to Chihuly pieces, visitors will find work by other acclaimed glassmakers such as Preston Singletary.
In the center of the museum is a large hot shop, where groups can see glassblowing demonstrations and visit with artists in residence.
“We have 24 different artists from all over the world who come here each year to work with our team,” said deputy director Susan Warner. “So, at any different time, you might be fortunate enough to see one of the great maestros of glassblowing.”
Oglebay Institute Glass Museum
During the 1800s, more than 100 glass factories operated in the Ohio Valley, producing up to 50 percent of America’s glass. Five major glass companies operated in Wheeling during that period. Today, the Oglebay Institute Glass Museum preserves examples of glass produced at factories in the area.
The museum’s collection comprises more than 3,500 pieces of historic glass and china made in Wheeling from 1820 to 1952. Among highlights is the Sweeney punchbowl, a five-foot-tall bowl weighing 225 pounds that is believed to be the largest piece of cut glass tableware ever produced.
While glass boomed in Wheeling in the 1800s, the Warwick company and other area manufacturers made names for themselves producing china. The museum features a replica circa-1900 china shop, displaying pieces created by Warwick and other china companies.
Ohio Museum of Glass
In Ohio, Lancaster and Fairfield County saw a surge of industrial glass manufacturing during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with more than a dozen companies manufacturing all sorts of glass products, from windows to lenses. In 2002, the town opened the Ohio Museum of Glass in restored downtown buildings.
Galleries at the museum house a permanent collection of glass objects, supplemented by at least two traveling exhibitions each year.
“We always have a theme to our exhibits,” said archives director Pattie Frohnapfel. “Right now, we have ‘We’re Cracked, We’re Goofy, and We’re Losing Our Marbles,’ a collection of antique marbles and crackled glass.”
The museum offers guided tours for groups and can arrange to have a glassblowing demonstration in the on-site studio.