A Travellerspoint blog

Day 68 (11.08.07) - Glass, Glass & Pottery

We visited Wheaton Arts & Crafts Center (formerly Wheaton Village) in Millville, New Jersey. South New Jersey was home to the first successful glass factory in America started nearby in 1739.

sunny 49 °F

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 70 (We will have to pick up the pace a bit!)
Weather - Sunny and Cold, but no wind
Camped - Wal-mart in Turnerville (near Camden, NJ & Philadelphia, PA)

Narrative:

This morning, we drove south again to Millville, where we had learned a place called "Wheaton Arts & Crafts Center"was located. This was the region where the first successful glass factory was started in America and it seemed like the kind of place that would be right up our alley. The Center opened at 10 AM and we got there at 10:05 AM so there were no cars at all out front and we parked about 20 feet from the gate. (It also helped that this is the off season I'm sure). You can check them out at their web site, or by following us:

http://www.wheatonarts.org/

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The cold snap that started a couple of days ago was still in force, but without the wind - so it really wasn't too bad. Mom and I both enjoyed walking around the grounds, especially since we were both dressed for it. We went through the Museum first. Unfortunately, neither of my pictures of the building exterior came out very well so I'll just take you right inside. First, there was a piece of art - I'm not a huge artsy kind of person, so was going to just walk right by it, but it was kind of interesting. The hands are casts from the artists grandparents, parents then himself. The dripping glass represents passing the art of glass down from generation to generation.

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Once past the entrance, the Museum is organized by era. It starts with a nice story board showing significant dates in the history of glass:

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(Sorry about the angle, I had to take this from the side to reduce the glare, but the information was too interesting to pass up.) The key date for the Museum is that the first successful glass factory in America was in 1739. The British had outlawed glass making in America, as they did all manufacturing. They wanted to Colonists to produce only raw materials, then buy all finished goods from England. We had learned earlier that there was an iron ore mine (also in NJ I think) very early on (1600's I think), but they had to ship the ore to England to be smelted. After a couple of ore carrying ships were lost at sea, the owners shut down the mine since it was too expensive to operate that way, by shipping the ore to England instead of processing it themselves.

Glass manufacturing was the same way, it was outlawed in the colonies. The New Jersey operation got started by bringing over glass blowers from Germany and basically operating outside the law. Of course, the early colonists had all sorts of demand and need for glass and there was plenty of sand and wood to fuel the furnaces, so south New Jersey became quite a center for early American glass production. The New Jersey sand, while plentiful, also had iron oxide impurities which gave the glass a greenish tint.

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Their products improved over time of course, but the glass retained it's aqua/green tint as long as they used New Jersey sand - so their products became known as "South Jersey Green".

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One exhibit that surprised me was the Nursing Bottles. There was apparently a lot of demand for Nursing Bottles fairly early on. Milk bottles, wine & beer bottles, medicine vials, dishware I would have expected (and the Museum had many fine examples of these), but Nursing Bottles?

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There were also many displays of the different types and colors of glass developed as the craft evolved. One of my favorites is the Cranberry glass, created by using gold oxide for color:

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Mom's favorite is the Milk Glass. Her mother had a milk glass cat dish for many, many years. Mom inherited this and it was one of her most cherished possessions. She still remembers this fondly, but the dish had an unfortunate accident with a vacuum cleaner, so Mom was excited to see one quite similar on display at the Museum (Mom's didn't have colored eyes however).

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She also liked the display of the Worlds Largest Bottle:

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Glass is used for many purposes, of course, not just for bottles and jugs. Here is a replica of the first, practical light bulb. Glass was so critical to the development of the light bulb (as well as other uses), that Thomas Edison built a glass blowing studio as part of his Menlo Park complex.

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In addition to colors, different techniques were developed to shape glass. In addition to just displaying different objects for a particular type or period of glass, the Museum has done an excellant job to creating signs or story boards to explain what your are looking at, such as this one for Pressed Glass:

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Of course I took pictures of as many of these signs and exhibits as I could, but it probably would have taken me several days to capture half of what was on display at this Museum. For the sake of your sanity, and my upload allowance, most of these will stay only on my hard drive. However here is one other example that is rather interesting. It shows the different steps in making cut glass - the last stage that creates the look we are used to seeing is the Polishing:

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In addition to regular museum style exhibits (Glass on shelves behind glass cases), there are two rooms set up to display how glass was used in day to day life. This one is an 1800's victorian home:

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Finally, there was a fairly extensive collection of various forms of glass art. One form of paperweight was invented by an artist at Wheaton Village, Tony DePalma, called "Millville Rose". These were very beautiful, but the one in the gift shop was $250, so I don't think I'll be bringing one home.

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Another artist making unusual forms is Paul Stankard, who makes very detailed "Botanicals" entirely out of glass.

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Finally, we saw a most unusual Chess Set. Gianni Toso had a Jewish father and Catholic mother. His chess set reflects the conflects these religions. This set isn't designed to actually be used however, it's much too delicate:

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Believe it or not, the Museum is only one part of Wheaton Arts & Crafts Center! Behind this are buildings where you can watch artists at work. In the Arts & Crafts building, we watched Terry Plasket paint pottery (I don't normally use last names on the blog, but as an artist, he can use any advertising he can get). He was very comfortable answering questions and explaining his craft.

Down the hall a bit was a glass maker using 'flameworking' to make glass objects out of colored glass rods and a gas flame. Her name was Nancy and she actually majored in "Scientific Glass Making". (There is only one place teaching this in the US, in Salem Community College, MA.) I also took video's of her working, but will need to edit them before I can post them so it may take a few more days (I'll change the title to "Video's Added" when I get this done).

Finally the big show was in the Glass Blowing building, also behind the Museum. They give a narrated talk while some of the artists create bowls, vases or bottles using the large furnaces. I also took quite a bit of video of this, but will have to edit it, so again may not get it updated for a few days. I'll try to post both of these at the same time.

In the meantime, the glass blowing building also contained an example of a basic recipe for making glass...

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...and many, many examples of glass presses and molds - this is just a sample of which:

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Once again, a very educational and interesting day! This one took us a little longer than average, so we didn't try to do much else today. We drove up towards Camden and I decided to find a place to stay relatively close to Philidelphia, which we'll visit in the morning. 'Till then...

Posted by jl98584 18:58 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Comments

Did you ever go to the glass museum in Tacoma, WA? Margaret took me there once, and I enjoyed watching them make some pieces, and also seeing the Dale Chihuly exhibits there.

by msj

That is beautiful. I love glass art. I also thought the video is very interesting. I love ceramics. I haven't had time to pursue that lately, but hope to get back to it.

by rllomas

No, unfortunately I have not been to the International Museum of Glass in Tacoma yet. I kept meaning to go, but hadn't made it yet. I'll certainly try to get there once I get back.

I've never done anything with ceramics, but still have a chili dish that you made I think. The light wasn't very good for the video, and I think I had it on the wrong setting. Still trying to get my act together here - will probably get it all figured out by the time the trip is over!

by jl98584

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