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A Gather of Glass at the Albany Institute of History and Art, Review

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A Gather of Glass, Review

A Fascinating Overview of Glassworks from the Area

An Albany Glass Works FlaskThe Albany Institute of History and Art is always a place of variety and wonder, housing a multitude of significant artifacts from ancient times to very recent history. Toys from our childhoods, mummies, presidential displays, plus a gift shop—all packed into a relatively small area on Washington Ave.

The most spacious gallery, Lansing, is an enormous red-walled room, covered with Hudson River School paintings of the development of the area, cultural traditions, and historical heroes. In the center of the floor, however, there are four simple glass cases. Don’t pass them by—this is A Gather of Glass.

The exhibit, on display until June 2012, is a collection of both locally and internationally crafted glassworks. It highlights the intriguing history of how different techniques, colors, and shapes of glass developed and evolved over time.

Where hand-blown glass expresses individuality in both the glassworker and the piece, it differs from pressed patterns, which are often stippled to sparkle elegantly, and molded pieces, which can bear insignias or even form animal shapes. “Blown three mold” is somewhere between a pattern mold and a pressed mold, which makes it less precise but still detailed. Colors vary from colorless and translucent amber, olive, and aquamarine, to experimentations with opaque milky white, iridescent gold, and mercury glass, which is silvered between double blown colorless layers.

Many pieces originate from local glass works companies in Albany, Saratoga, and Ellenville (Ulster County). Some are from out of state: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. And a few are even traveled across the ocean, crafted as far as England and Germany.

The art of glassblowing first was documented in ancient Rome around 50 B.C.E. But in the late 19th century, a man by the name of Michael Owens developed a machine which revolutionized glasswork by allowing unskilled workers to manufacture glass. His work led to the development of bottling plants. Still, hand worked glass is admired and coveted for its beauty, craftsmanship, and individuality.

A Piece of Lacy GlassIn fact, a unique aquamarine hand-blown piece at the exhibit originated from Redford Crown Glass Works in Clinton County, NY, between 1830 and 1851: a hand warmer in the shape of an eggplant. The Institute features both decorative and practical pieces, from novelty saltcellars to flasks. German-based mugs and goblets from the 1700s show how glass was engraved. An assortment of pieces from the Service of Table Glass with the Weld family arms from between 1840 and 1859 were blown and cut with a diamond pattern—from the delicate wine glasses to the towering decanters. Another notable mention is the circa 1820 Armorial Wine Rinse, a part of an enormous service made for the Earl of Lambton in County Durham, England.

As the exhibition shows, glass is both practical and decorative, evolving since its invention to suit the ever-changing desires of glassmakers and admirers. And as always, the Albany Institute gives the Capital Region a sense of pride when we see how much talent has grown here and what has been crafted. Without these original pieces of craftsmanship, we would be without all contemporary glass art and utensils.

Kate Smith is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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