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