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This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the June 9, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Glass at Bristol-Myers Squibb

It’s utilitarian – and beautiful. It’s fragile – and enduring. It’s

everywhere, so it’s barely noticeable – until it is transformed into

magnificent works of art.

Glass art may seem something of an oxymoron. How can the very humble

vessel from which we drink our morning orange juice morph into

something so beautiful that it makes one gasp? How can the material

that makes a container for eye drops also be formed into a vase that

is awesomely magnificent, and possibly priceless?

If these conundrums are intriguing, hurry over to the Bristol-Myers

Squibb Gallery at the company’s magnificent corporate headquarters on

Route 206 in Lawrenceville. Through Sunday, July 11, the gallery is

resplendent with a "Highlights in Contemporary Glass Art" exhibition

that will surely put to rest any concerns about whether glass can be


"The works on display here show that from something so common,

something unique and exquisite can be created," says Thomas Costa, the

company’s vice president and deputy general counsel. "The ability to

take that step speaks to the imaginative spark of the artists whose

works we can enjoy as part of this exhibit." As Costa also notes,

glass artists fully appreciate the beauty – and potential – of a

material many of us take for granted. One of these artists, the

internationally-renowned glass artist Paul Stankard, has never tired

of finding that potential. Stankard’s piece, which seems to

encapsulate "frozen" flowers in a glass cube, provides the cover to

the exhibit catalog.

He discovered glass as a young man when his dad, a chemist, gave him

good advice. "He suggested that I investigate scientific glassblowing

at Salem County Community College, because he sensed both my interest,

and my possible ability," says Stankard, who did just that. He

graduated from the highly-regarded program in 1963, and has never

looked back.

Stankard, a resident of Mantua in South Jersey, maintains a 3,000

square foot studio as part of his home, and has earned an

international reputation as a prolific glass artist whose work is

featured not only at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Gallery this season, but

also at the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan through August 29.

It is fitting that Paul Stankard hails from Salem County, because that

is where glassmaking has its deep American roots. It was back in 1739

that Caspar Wistar, a German immigrant, launched the infant nation’s

first glassworks operation in what is now Alloway Township. The

region’s natural resources, which include sand and lime from oyster

shells as well as vast amounts of wood, were excellent for the


In 1776, when Wistar’s operation closed, German-born glassmaker

Solomon Stanger filled the gap, and soon South Jersey, and then the

entire state, became a mecca for glassmaking. In all, there have been

200 glass factories in the state.

Wheaton Village in Millville, which draws visitors from around the

world, houses the Museum of American Glass, a showcase for the works

of glass artists, hail from around the world. The museum, the largest

in the country devoted to glassmaking, is deservedly in New Jersey,

where the industry began. Wheaton is also home to the Creative Glass

Center of America, where contemporary artists can hone their skills.

"New Jersey is definitely, absolutely, one of the most important

centers for glass in the country, and Salem College is certainly a

training ground," says glass artist Dennis Briening of Pennsville, the

other New Jersey artist in the Bristol-Myers Squibb exhibition.

Briening, who is the coordinator of the Salem County Community College

Glass Center, got hooked on glassmaking as a child when his father

took him to see glassblowers in West Virginia. After working for the

Xerox Company in electro-optical systems in Pasadena, California,

Briening came back to New Jersey, continued learning about the art of

glassmaking, and also earned a degree in sculpture from Rowan

University. "Form has always fascinated me in every art form, and this

was a way to learn even more," he says.

Briening, who is also a scientific glass technician at Hercules

Research Center in Wilmington, is best known for his remarkable glass

"books," which are represented in the Bristol-Myers Squibb Gallery

show. "Each page is actually a sheet of glass," explains the artist,

who works with his brother David on some of these pieces. "Overlays of

vitreous powder ultimately form the narrative that tells the story in

images," he says.

In addition to the work of Stankard and Briening, the show includes

more than two dozen pieces by a number of artists, including Mark

Kobasz of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, who is known for creating tower-like

forms; Gregory Grenon, who embeds film in his glass works for

astonishingly detailed pieces, many of which contain social

commentaries; Jamie Harris of New York, whose almost surreal glass

pieces suggest the work of a painter, and are often in amoebic shapes;

and Eric McClendon of Hellertown, Pennsylvania, who describes

glassmaking as a "fast and lively as well as disciplined and dangerous

process." His work on display at Bristol-Myers Squibb consists of

free-form, vividly-colored vessels.

As the catalog accompanying the exhibit suggests, "Anyone who has ever

watched a glassmaker take a red-hot glob of glass from a furnace and

manipulate the substance into an original creation has been witness to

a thrilling and nuanced performance." While the Bristol-Myers Squibb

show lacks the heart-stopping action of a demonstration, its charms

reside in the deft showcasing of end-products of that process. This

show is a vivid reminder that glass can be so much more than a gas

station giveaway or a carrying case for 12 ounces of beer. Elevated by

an artist, glass in the lyrical words of John Keats — can indeed be

"a thing of beauty and a joy forever."

Highlights in Contemporary Glass Art, at the Gallery at Bristol-Myers

Squibb, Route 206, Lawrenceville, through Sunday, July 11. Hours:

Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends, 1-5 p.m. Admission

is free. (Closed June 26 and June 27 and July 4 and 5). Call


— Sally Friedman

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